American Football has slowly but steadily registered itself as a sport in Sri Lanka, despite the fact that it needs many improvements.
Dilroy Fernando, renowned Rugby player and Sri Lanka’s only IRB certified referee, is the pivotal figure behind the introduction of the game in Sri Lanka and he plays an important role in developing what looks like to be a sport with a great future ahead.
Fernando took the initiative to make aware of the sport by joining hands with Elite Football League of India (EFLI) in 2011 and has successfully formed 4 internationally registered teams from Colombo, Kandy, Jaffna and Rajarata.
He has also been able to penetrate through to the youth of the country by seeing that 24 teams from local universities embrace Flag Football, a lighter version of the sport, which he introduced in 2014.
The sport has gained a lot of positive response from the locals after the second edition of the EFLI – Sri Lanka, Triangular American Football League – 2016 for SAGT trophy, which concluded on Friday.
Speaking to Daily Mirror during a league game, Fernando said that he looks to match the local rugby scene with an American Football league of its own.
“The response has been exceptional. Three teams featured in the tournament that just concluded. We had a team from Pakistan also and thus our players had a touch of international exposure as well. I want the tournament to grow to the level of rugby in Sri Lanka,” he said.
“Sri Lankan Rugby, founded in 1879, boasts of a proud history. Despite that just look at the amount of club teams that are active. I am not being biased but at the rate of the development of American Football in Sri Lanka, chances are that it might very well surpass rugby. With such positive reception in quick time, I have a feeling that this could be a reality one day,” he said.
“I want the sport to grow. It has developed in great amounts over the past few years of introduction. This shows that the sport is here to stay. The response from the players and crowds has been fantastic. There has been a lot of support from the US Embassy. They have backed us in our endeavors,” Fernando said.
“There is an enthusiastic reception from the boys, especially the ones from Jaffna. They enjoy playing a lot and show colours of a great future of the sport in Sri Lanka. Many of them had played rugby before so the transition between the two sports hasn’t been a problem for them,” he said.
When asked as to how he started off things he said, “My reply was a flat ‘no’ when I was offered a chance to introduce the sport in the country by the EFLI. I wasn’t well versed in the sport and I backed off. But when I understood the benefits it would do to the youth of the country, I changed my decision,” he said. “Along with the benefits of the sport, you could really build up your career. And say you really perform well; you could apply for a sponsorship and maybe get drafted to one of the teams in the US. See, there are endless opportunities.”
“There are claims that the sport is dangerous and that it should be discouraged. If properly played, such injuries could be minimized. Plus hockey and boxing are more risky. There have been no such major injuries so far locally. To be on the safe side, we changed the rules of the tournament accordingly so as to prevent any injuries,” he said when questioned about the safety factor involved in the sport.
“I want more people to take up the sport. It needs more reception all over the country. It should reach all corners of the country. Discussions are on as to including the sport as an event in the Olympics. This could be a great opportunity for Sri Lanka,” he said finally.