Touchdown touches lives

AYAN PRAMANIK | Updated on April 12, 2012 Published on April 12, 2012

Players of Americal Football leage during a practice session at Yuva Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata   -  Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury

American league football arrives in India, promising to turn struggling athletes into successful professionals.

As a district-level ace footballer, Saroj Patra struggled to buy even a pair of spikes. The 23-year-old from Amta in West Bengal's Howrah district did not have the courage to turn into a professional footballer.

But come November, he will be playing for Kolkata Vipers — one of the nine Indian teams of the Elite Football League of India.

Owned by ace American footballer Kurt Warner and Hollywood actor Mark Wahlberg, EFLI is the Indian edition of the popular American football tournament Elite Football League Inc.

American football is distinctly different from soccer and somewhat close to rugby in aggressive play. “A level above rugby, the game involves a lot of strategies like in chess,” says Manohar Bangera, the Chief Operations Officer of EFLI.

Through a talent hunt, EFLI has recruited 350 Indian athletes, who are paid on average a monthly salary of Rs 15,000. The players were selected from colleges and district-level football, hockey and basketball academies.

Fifty of those selected will be coaches for the nine Indian teams — Kolkata Vipers, Mumbai Gladiators, Pune Marathas, Punjab Warriors, Chennai Swarm, Bangalore Warhawks, Hyderabad Skykings, Delhi Defenders and one unnamed team from Rajasthan. With one team each from Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, twelve teams will play in the league.

Ten months into training, Patra's hopes are now rekindled and he aspires to become an ace player of American football. “EFLI has helped me rediscover myself as an athlete. I have also started giving money to my family,” he says.

Like Patra, 21-year-old Akash Manna and 19-year-old Santu Sardar are dreaming big ever since they joined EFLI in July last year. “Apart from enjoying an aggressive sport, I hope to make a career out of it. EFLI has also promised it will assist us in higher studies in future,” Manna says.

Belonging to a daily wage earner's family at Sodepur in North 24 Pargana, Sardar aspired to become a national footballer but was forced to earn instead for the family. With EFLI, his sights are now firmly set on the game he is passionate about.

“Now I can live my dream and give 100 per cent dedication to the game. Also, my family is getting support from the salary I earn every month,” says an elated Sardar.

The organisers of the league have assured insurance cover of Rs 5 lakh each for the players and coaches. “They have also promised to increase our salary once the teams are owned by the franchisees,” Manna adds.

Assuring a share of revenues for the athletes, Bangera says, “Once the teams are bought by the franchisees, the remuneration will be much heftier than the salary they are getting now.”

Additionally, the league opens up opportunities for various kinds of sportsmen. “Here is a game which requires athletes ranging from sprinters, throwers, soccer players, judokas, to wrestlers. It is a blend of different sports, making it more viable for the Indian youth to adopt it.”

Barring cricket players, Indian athletes are rarely able to make a living as professionals. EFLI aims to change that. “As we are training our athletes the American way, our current endeavour is to take them through the professional training module, as the league demands it. Terming an athlete professional is unheard of in our country. I am sure players would like to be called professionals,” Bangera says.

EFLI's talent hunt aims to reach out to as many colleges and varsity campuses as possible. “Our feeder system would be through collegiate games. Hence, we have targeted to lock in eight universities and 64 colleges by the yearend,” Bangera says.

The league first approached Mumbai University. “We locked in eight colleges affiliated to it. First in the lot was K.G. Somaiya College in Ghatkopar,” he says.

The organisers have so far approached 16 colleges and two universities — Mumbai and Jaipur. They will soon talk to the University of Calcutta to rope in eight of its colleges for future players.

To familiarise American football, orientation programmes were conducted at schools.

Bangera is quite confident that Indian youth will take to the game. “The game has machoism, colours, fashion, style and is easy to learn and play. It also demands a good physique.”

Published on April 12, 2012
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor