Get your cleats, shoulder pads and helmets ready; American Football has landed in Egypt
written and photographed by Frank E. Bartscheck II
By far the most popular sport in the U.S. is American football. In recent years the growth in popularity of the sport has been strong throughout Europe, which boasts numerous leagues, teams and divisions. The development has been spurred by the International Federation of America Football (IFAF), which boosts teams in 71 countries outside of the U.S. In the Middle East, however, the sport has never firmly planted roots within the region. Until now.
Last month the Katameya Sporting Club in New Cairo hosted the inaugural Egyptian Bowl. The game was the culmination of the Egyptian Federation of American Football’s (EFAF) first season and pitted the two best teams in the recently established league: The German University in Cairo (GUC) Eagles and the Cairo Hellhounds.
Prior to the game, the excitement could be felt throughout the stands. A large and raucous crowd replete with signs, large drums and strong vocal chords cheered on their favorite team; the energy in the stands was only outmatched by the tough play on the field. It was apparent that not everyone in the audience fully grasped all of the nuances of the game, but the crowd loved it anyway. At times a collective “Ohhh!” swept over the audience in response to the several crunching tackles that were audible even in the stands. The GUC Eagles, led by experienced and extremely knowledgeable American head coach Terry Bates, eventually won 26-12.
The game caused quite a stir in Cairo. Assistant Minister of Youth and Sports Dr. Ashraf Sobhi as well as numerous television crews and photographers turned out for the event, highlights of which were broadcast on multiple Egyptian television channels. The game was streamed live on YouTube and a week later CBC Extra hosted Amr Hebo, CEO of EFAF, along with players from the Champion GUC Eagles, came on for a roundtable interview.
One of the points discussed was the camaraderie of the teams at the Egyptian Bowl. “To be honest with you, it is more like a family,” says Hebo of his experience playing for the GUC team in 2012. He emphasizes that the team, made up of students who shared a love of the sport, would likely never have met without American football. “Now they all go together on the field and [have] become more than friends. They are a family. The guys play together, they eat together, they spend time together,” explains Hebo. “Before we teach them how to tackle, we instill in each of them that the guy next to you is the only one you can count on.”
From the turnout it seems there’s strong potential for American football to become popular in Egypt, and has been on the radar of a few dedicated young Egyptians for some time. “The game started with a small group of guys who wanted to play in 2007,” explains Hebo. After a couple of years of playing scrimmages against one another, Wadi Degla Sporting Club created an American football academy in 2009. The academy included three teams but disbanded in the wake of the 2011 Revolution, leaving players without a team or place to play. But it didn’t discourage the few who had a passion for the game from continuing to attempt to establish a league. Separate independent teams began popping up throughout Cairo. In 2011, it was just the GUC Eagles and Cairo Wolves. These teams competed against each other and played full contact games without any equipment -- which is extremely dangerous. The following year a couple more teams formed and discussion began in earnest to form an independent American football league.
In the summer of 2013, the Egyptian League of American Football (ELAF) was formed. It was the first time that full contact American football, with the proper equipment, was played in Egypt. Under the guidance of this league, Egypt was granted full admittance into IFAF in 2014, which allowed Egypt to field a national team. In December 2014, the very first Egyptian national team competed against the Moroccan national team for the opportunity to qualify for the 2015 IFAF World Championship; Egypt lost 26-6, but it was still a major achievement, marking the first time any team from Africa had competed in an international American football tournament.
Egypt is the only country to have its own league of American football. Other countries, like Morocco and Saudi Arabia, have a national team but do not have any leagues or independent teams to compete against locally.
In 2014, EFAF was established to take ELAF’s place as a full contact league. EFAF has already initiated expansion to six teams — the GUC Eagles, Cairo Wolves, Modern Sciences Academy (MSA) Tigers, Cairo Hellhounds, Cairo Bears and The American University in Cairo (AUC) Titans — and “we are expecting to have seven or eight teams starting next season,” says Hebo. In the meantime, Hebo is working to increase the sport’s visibility and popularity in Egypt. This summer, the EFAF plans to organize American Football training academies throughout the capital at “different locations all at once [in addition to] a flag football league in Cairo as well as a beach flag football tournament,” says Hebo. The exact locations and dates have yet to be announced.
For more about American football or EFAF go to: facebook.com/efaf2014.