Globalization and cross-cultural currents sometime takes unexpected and bizarre steps.
A U.S. group of executives and ex-athletes seek to bring American-style football to India
The Elite Football League (EFL) of India is expecting to launch its inaugural season in November 2012, with eight teams across the sub-continent.
The league has the backing and financial support of some very prominent names from the National Football League in the U.S.: Hall of Famer and legendary Chicago Bears coach, Mike Ditka; Hall of Fame Dallas Cowboy wide receiver Michael Irvin; former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski, and current NFL linebacker Brandon Chillar, who is himself of Indian descent.
Co-owner Jaworski will serve as the EFL's director.
The league’s principal investor is Richard Scheer, vice president of Strategic Alliances, who also co-owns the Chicago Rush team in the Arena Football League with Ditka.
The initial eight teams will be: the Mumbai Gladiators, the Pune Black Tigers, the Delhi Defenders, the Kolkata Vipers, the Hyderabad Skykings, the Goa Swarm, the Punjab Warriors, and the Bhubaneshwar Warhawks.
Scheer has great ambitions for the Indian league, claiming it could expand to 45 teams over the next few years.
"I envision that in three years, the EFL will be bigger [in India] than the NFL [is in the United States]," Scheer told reporters.
Reportedly, India’s biggest media conglomerate, Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd., has expressed serious interest in broadcasting the EFL’s games. In fact, they have signed a letter of intent to televise 33 regular season games and three playoff games to an estimated 500-million potential viewers in India, Sri Lanka, The Maldive Islands, Bangladesh, Nepal, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, and Pakistan.
The government’s Sports Authority of India (SAI) has also endorsed the league.
"India is beyond doubt a great market for the sports and entertainment sectors," EFL's chief executive Richard Whelan said at a news conference.
"A concept like [EFL] presents a huge opportunity and the perfect platform for brands to get visibility and reach out to their potential customers."
Last September, V. Bhandarkar of the SAI Training Centre in Mumbai signed a letter to provide playing facilities and any other amenities "for the promotion of American football and…to give technical expertise during the process of screening, assessment and evaluation of sports persons and coaches… so as to establish a strong base to propagate and develop this premier sports in urban and rural India."
One possible playing field could be the Shri Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex located at Balewadi, Pune, near Mumbai. Built in 1994, the facility can hold more than 20,000 spectators.
However, there are questions about this grand experiment – namely, where will the league find adequate players and coaches? Despite India’s vast population, the country has no history of playing of even following American-style football.
Plus, there are concerns about how popular the league – assuming it gets off the ground – will be?
It may attract a large following at the beginning as a novelty – but how can that be sustained into true fandom?
Reportedly, Dr. G.V. Pargaonkar, the principal of the Bombay Physical Culture Association's College of Physical Education, which is affiliated with the University of Mumbai, agreed in April to develop players and coaching staff for the EFL.
Whelan added: "We felt that India didn't have enough games or sport to watch on television and thus see a huge potential here. We are training coaches from athletics, volleyball and wrestling and hope to be ready for the first season in time."