Dubai: The clashes of colossal linebackers thumping into each other as spandex-clad cheerleaders swoosh and swipe their pom-poms in the air, whipping the crowd into a frenzy, is an all-American experience. And it’s a scene to become familiar in the UAE from this weekend.
The Emirates American Football League’s (EAFL) inaugural fixtures kick-off tomorrow with a double-header at the Jebel Ali Shooting Club, where the Abu Dhabi Wildcats take on the Dubai Barracudas and the Dubai Stallions face-off against the Al Ain Desert Foxes.
Founded in July this year, the EAFL is the first-ever International Federation of American Football (IFAF)-recognised organisation in the UAE.
“We had a vision of bringing full-contact American football to the UAE on a level that appeals to anyone, from beginners to experienced players,” EAFL General Manager Dustin Cherniawski said.
The footballing venture grew from the dust and grass of Safa Park, where the UAE Falcons, a group of NFL enthusiasts, have been gathering to scrimmage and run routes for a bit of recreational fun for the last two years.
From the Safa Gridiron, the pastime developed into a burning passion to bring an official American football league to the Emirates.
“After getting bored of black and white scrimmages, all the players pitched in some money and we invited a team from Turkey to Dubai. We played them in March of this year but lost 71-3,” explained Kai Trompeter, EAFL league commissioner.
However, such a drubbing didn’t deter the Falcons. “After this [we] decided to get a league up and running, so we can play regular, competitive games under a sustainable business model,” he added.
The EAFL roster now boasts four adult and six youth teams, 20 certified coaches and 18 officials. Adult competitors range from 21 to 45 years old, representing more than 20 nationalities. The league will showcase 18 adult games, culminating in the Desert Bowl final.
There are currently less than 10 Emiratis playing in the EAFL, but Kyle Jordan, Head Coach of the Dubai Barracudas, is confident of attracting more local interest as the league gets underway.
“Once we start playing and fixtures are regular, that will attract more attention and raise awareness. We have a member of the Sharjah Royal family playing with us, so he’s doing his part to spread the word to get more Emiratis involved,” the Cincinnati-born coach said.
American football is a notoriously expensive sport and, for a grassroots initiative like the EAFL, where players have to buy their own equipment and teams have to pay for field rent, funding is key if the league is to succeed.
“The league is set up as a non-profit project and is currently funded by membership fees. Any shortfall among players and teams is being made-up by the EAFL,” Trompeter said.
The EAFL has been seeking sponsorship and has received some interest, but nothing has yet materialised. “In terms of outside financing, it would be great to get more help and participation from the UAE government. And I think that will happen,” Jordan said.
As is customary with the American football ideal, entertainment is a sure bet on EAFL game days — and Trompeter says the league is looking to recreate the colourful atmosphere associated with American high school games. “We will have music, Harley Davidson motorbikes and pick-up trucks on display, food, drinks and of course cheerleaders,” he said.