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Super Bowl Global: American Football's Worldwide Push

Sri Lankan gridiron
Sri Lankan gridiron
Julie Farrar

LONDON — It’s that time of year again, and Super Bowl fever is definitely NOT spreading across the planet. Still, the rest of the world is slowing warming to American football, and the game will be broadcast live Sunday in more than 180 countries and in more than 30 languages, mostly on cable and satelite networks. The bigger dream of seeing the proverbial pigskin take root abroad requires more than just the once-a-year novelty of the championship game. So here is a quick tour of American football's slow rise around the globe.

The NFL has long had high hopes of establishing a European franchise, with a regular season game scheduled in London since 2007. But for the first time this season, two games were played on the opposite side of the Atlantic thanks to demand. In 2014, this will increase to three.

"It is a sign that the game is growing globally," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told NFLUK.com. "I think the message is clear. There are passionate fans who love the NFL in the UK.”

On American Independence Day in 1942, a football game was played by American servicemen in Adelaide, and it managed to attract an impressive crowd of 25,000. Still the game didn’t take hold after the war ended, unable to unseat the padding-free Australian Rules Football.

Still, the American version of the game began to gain popularity in the 1980s and early ‘90s with the formation of leagues. Currently there are 70 teams with more than 2,500 players.

The aim of the EFLI is to introduce American football to the Indian market and its large consumer base. The organisation's management team consists of both United States and Indian business and entertainment executives as well as several United States sports figures.

Prominent investors include Brandon Chillar, an Indian-American linebacker from the Super Bowl-winning Green Bay Packers, former Chicago Bears head coach Mike Ditka, former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin, and former NFL quarterbacks Ron Jaworski and Kurt Warner. Investors outside of the sports community include U.S. actor and entertainment producer Mark Wahlberg.

The EFL alliance aims to usher in a new era for sports in India, incorporating teams from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and a certain American mythology of the game: “On the field, all are equal; player, team, coach and fan united in an energy unparalleled by any other game.”

An American Football team plays at the University of Nairobi, backed by an American diplomat. Kenyan Daniel Adongo, a former rugby player, who now plays in the NFL for the Indianapolis Colts, seems to have inspired the students. He makes more than $5,000 a week and the students hope that some day, their time will come too.

There are many challenges in acquiring equipment, which must be shipped from abroad. The team hope to be first to represent Kenya in the upcoming American Football World Cup in Sweden in 2015.

In just two years, the number of teams competing has more than tripled in Russia. The sport, however, doesn’t get much exposure. If Russians played collegiate football in US that would help exposure, says RT expand=1].

No state funding is awarded, so each team relies on sponsorship. Players often fund their own playing and travel expenses. There are only about 500 players at who compete at the highest level, but still, they’re all amateurs and must down anther job as well.

Vasily Dobryakov, coach for the Moscow Patriots said: “It’s a contact sport, team sport. Good-looking guys playing a touch game. It’s what we’re looking for.”

American Football in Brazil began on the Copacabana beach, or so the legend goes. And it’s not just the men who have taken to the sport — the women of Rio de Janeiro are playing too.

Soccer might be the beautiful game, but for some Italians, American Football is getting a second look. In Italy's mostly amateur league, the coach and quarterback are typically American. In 2013 former Broncos & Jets QB Tim Tebow was offered a job with the Milano Seamen, in a holy attempt to promote the sport in the country.

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Photo by Italian Football League via Twitter

The winner of first and second American Football World Cup was, in fact, Japan. Called the X-League, it’s amateur — like in Russia — so practices are shorter and fewer than in professional leagues.

The winner of the X-League plays in the Rice Bowl, an annual game on January 3, pitting the X League champion against the national college champion in Japan. Current champions are the Obic Seagulls.

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In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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