American Football Gaining Popularity in Arab Countries
BY: David DeMaria/Contributing Writer
With the NFL playoffs entering the conference finals, fans across the country and around the world will be watching the action, including people in the Middle East. Though basketball and soccer have traditionally been the most popular sports to watch and play in the Arab World, American football has gained significant popularity in the region. The countries with national teams in the sport on the rise and include: Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia.
Though unaffiliated with the IFAF (International Federation of American Football), both Jordan and the United Arab Emirates have established national leagues. In addition to the Amman Barracudas, Jordan features such clubs as the Amman Spartans and the Fighting Falcons. On January 13 of this year, the Barracudas faced the Fighting Falcons in the Jordanian championship of American football known as the Buffalo Wings & Rings Bowl.
Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates has established a seven-team league known as the Emirates American Football League. The league features teams, such as the Capitals, Wild Cats, and Scorpions of Abu Dhabi, the Stallions and Barracudas of Dubai, and the Al-Ain Desert Foxes. The 2017 season will culminate with the championship game on March 17.
On December 14, 2014, Morocco defeated Egypt by a score of 26-6 in a one-game African qualifier held in Cairo for the right to represent Africa at the 2015 IFAF World Championships in Canton, OH. Moroccan running back Othmane Zaatri scored the last touchdown of the game to seal the victory. Despite having qualified for the tournament, Morocco did not send a team in 2015 due to financial considerations, but they hope to qualify for the next World Championships in 2019.
Kuwait competed in an Asian qualifyier for the 2015 edition of the tournament, but was eliminated in the first of two rounds by South Korea in a lopsided 69-7 affair played on April 12, 2014 in Seoul.
ِEgypt also has established two separate national leagues. One, a five team national league known as The Egyptian League of American Football that includes teams such as Sharks, Blue Hawks, Mustangs, Lions, and Gorillas, all of which play in Cairo. The other league in Egypt, known as the Egyptian Federation of American Football, includes teams such as the Cairo University MSA (Misr University for Science and Technology) Tigers, the Cairo Hell Hounds, the Cairo Wolves, the GUC (German University of Cairo) Eagles, the AUC (American University Cairo) Titans, the Cairo Bears, and the Transforma Warriors.
On February 5, 2016, the Cairo Wolves defeated the Amman Barracudas by a score of 40-20 in what was in the first ever international American Football match in Egypt.
On May 2, 2016, the GUC Eagles defeated the Cairo Hell Hounds 12-10 to win Egyptian Bowl II. Eagles wide receiver Seif Swailam scored the winning touchdown on 67-yard touchdown pass. Meanwhile, Muhammed Anbar and Ammar Yasser blocked Hell Hounds field goal attempt within the last 20 seconds, preserving the title for the Eagles. Seif Swailam and Eagles cornerback Seif El Dine shared co-MVP honors of the match.
Saudi Arabia, though yet to compete in World Cup qualifying at the international level, has two club teams. The Jeddah Jaws, formed in 2010, played their first friendly match on March 28, 2013, but were defeated by the national team of Kuwait by a score of 21-17. Kuwaiti quarterback Saad Al-Sayar ran for two touchdowns, while Jeddah safety Mamdouh Ismail returned an interception for 60 yards, scoring a touchdown in the 4th quarter.
On May 9, 2014 the Jaws played their first domestic match against Saudi Arabia’s other club team, the Yanbu Kings, which formed in 2013. On December 11, 2015, the Jaws travelled to Jordan to play the first ever American football friendly match held in the country, and defeated the Amman Barracudas.
As the action of the playoffs continue to unfold, its certain that American football fans in Arab countries will be paying close attention. Now, American fans can also keep an eye on the development of the sport in the Arab World. With the sport developing at such a fast pace in the Middle East, it might not be long before the region becomes a pipeline for future NFL talent.