Surrounded by posters for the Dubai Rugby Sevens, it was a pigskin that took centre stage as the UAE Falcons, the country's first American football team held a scrimmage in front of a small but enthusiastic crowd at The Sevens venue.
Falcons' flight shows how American 'game works'
DUBAI // Surrounded by posters for the Dubai Rugby Sevens, it was a pigskin that took centre stage Friday as the UAE Falcons, the country's first American football team, made their first public appearance.
The Falcons held a scrimmage in front of a small but enthusiastic crowd at The Sevens venue. Kai Trompeter, the team's German coach, said it was his only means of giving his new squad the experience of live competition.
"We are the only organised adult team in the country," he said. "It's unfortunate as, right now, to prepare playing games, we play scrimmages against our own defence."
Trompeter said plans have been made to stage international exhibition matches against teams from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Turkey, with the first game likely to take place in January, he said. The Falcons are made up of around 60 players, ranging from former semi-professionals to beginners with potential, and came together only in the past 12 months.
The American Football Academy (AFA), an initiative set up in 2010 with the objective of developing a grass-roots system for the sport, also planned to create the UAE's first professional team.
However, when the academy's first coach, Rex Stevenson, returned to the United States, plans for a pro team fell through. But the younger recruits remained.
"You still see the kids here, who are training under the academy, but we had a lot of adult players signing up for the team, too, so now we operate our own management in cooperation with the AFA," Trompeter said.
Before the scrimmage, two squads of young players from the embryonic AFA provided an entertaining undercard in front of family members. Clad in full uniforms, complete with helmets and mouth guards, children such as Nabil Arabi and Siddiq Canty showed spectators there is passion in the UAE for this foreign sport.
"I love to play American football, but they don't support it at my school," said Arabi after an impressive stint as quarterback. "I didn't know the UAE had a national team, so I was planning to go to the States to play."
One of the primary reasons Trompeter helped organise yesterday's event was to publicise the Falcons and the work the AFA are doing, as well as helping people understand how the game works. "Educating people, that's the real challenge," said Byron Canty, Siddiq's father. "It's hard for a sport like [American] football to get recognition, but they are showing today there's an interest. And the kids just love it."