American football sees expansion in UAE

Kai Trompeter. a top administrator of the sport in the country, says there is plenty of demand for it as a four-team league system becomes a reality.

The UAE Falcons, in black, have been recognised as the UAE's national American football team.
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Add American football to the country's expansive sports menu.

A four-team league representing the cities of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Al Ain will kick off next month, and their season will culminate with the Desert Bowl championship game in March, organisers say.

"This is a real football league, open to anyone who wants to play, and we want it to be sustainable," said Kai Trompeter, the commissioner of the Emirati American Football League (EAFL).

"It will not be run like a business. It will be not-for-profit, and if we make any money it will go right back into the league in the form of more training or doing nicer things. Our main goal is to create a safe and fun environment to learn and play American football."

Trompeter, 41, a German who picked up the fast and collision-packed American game while a schoolboy in the state of Alabama, has been the prime mover in a busy summer ahead of the EAFL's debut season.

The organisation he heads has been recognised by the International Federation of American Football (Ifaf) as "the official country administrator" for the sport in the UAE, Trompeter said. Ifaf is the global sanctioning body for American football, overseeing activities at 62 nations on six continents.

Trompeter will continue as the coach of the UAE Falcons, who are now recognised as the country's national team.

The four teams taking the field this autumn are the Dubai Stallions and Dubai Barracudas, the Abu Dhabi Wildcats and Al Ain Desert Foxes.

Andre Sommersell, an American who played with the Indianapolis Colts in the National Football League, will coach the Stallions.

"It's ambitious, going with the four teams in the first year, but there is a lot of need, a lot of guys in the country who want to go out and relive their high school days or who want to learn the game," Sommersell said. "Now we have a platform for them to experience their dreams."

The trigger for the formation of the league was the interest shown earlier this year in the Falcons, who played a game against a club from Turkey in March and an inter squad game in April.

Trompeter said more than 130 adults, including several Emiratis, have registered with the EAFL, and he expects more as the news of the league's creation spreads.

An initial workout will be held at the four teams' training sites on Monday.

A league-wide training camp will be conducted at Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi on October 6; the instructors will include veterans of professional football from North America and Europe.

The season will encompass six games, with each team playing the others twice. All four teams will make the play-offs - "We just want to play a lot of football," Trompeter said - with the top regular-season team playing the bottom and the second and third meeting in the other semi-final.

The season will end with an all-star game.

Membership fees of Dh1,500, paid by the players, will cover the league's expenses, Trompeter said. The money will cover a variety of expenses, including the rental of playing fields, insurance and officials.

Players will be responsible for purchasing their equipment - practice jersey and pants, helmets and pads - a cost the commissioner estimates at Dh1,000 for adults and Dh800 for youth.

The league will sponsor a youth competition for children as young as nine. Trompeter said around 80 youth players have signed up.

He said coaches will attend seminars on concussions and dehydration, and "a trained first aid responder" will be present at all practices as well as games.

All teams will remain open to new players at any time during the season, he said.

The four league teams will serve as the proving grounds for players chosen to play for the national team. Trompeter said the Falcons will play the Kyrgyzstan national team in December.

Dustin Cherniawski, a veteran of the Canadian Football League, will serve as the league's general manager. The EAFL has one employee, Karyn Macdonald, a Scotland native with a background in marketing and public relations.

Trompeter said the league "still needs volunteers, and we're desperate for officials, especially anyone with experience".

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