Khalid eyes first U.A.E. gridiron team within five years of league’s success

– Abu Dhabi, U.A.E.

Young UAE sportsmen have been urged to join a thriving local American football league and help realize an ambitious dream to form the sport’s first Emirati national team.

Emirates American Football League (EAFL) player Shaikh Khalid Saud Al Qasimi, a member of the Sharjah ruling family, told Gulf News he was optimistic such a lofty goal was possible following the “phenomenal” success of the venture in just two years.

Euan Reedie art.

Shaikh Khalid Saud Al Qasimi

The brainchild of Canadian businessman Dustin Cherniawski, the EAFL will this season involve a projected 500 athletes of more than 40 different nationalities playing for four senior teams and various junior outfits, but only a handful of UAE nationals such as Al Qasimi.

Despite this, Cherniawski insisted to Gulf News that an Emirati national team could be a possibility within five years due to UAE nationals’ innate athletic prowess and the fact that they are “quick learners”.

Shaikh Khalid heartily backed this assertion when he said: “Five years is a long [time]. However, what Dustin and the whole team at the EAFL have accomplished within the two years of inception has been phenomenal. We already have an amazing group of men and women who help make this league exciting and make sure all the players, parents, and spectators have a memorable experience.”

“In terms of an Emirati team, this would be a huge achievement and something I believe we can do. Every season gets bigger and better and we get a lot of new players, including Emiratis, so we are on the right track in achieving such a feat.”

The 28-year-old, who plays as a tight-end for Dubai Barracudas in the league and who only took up the sport during his university days in Sharjah, went on to explain why Emiratis should consider giving it a try.

“Since a lot of Emiratis love watching the TV show ‘Game of Thrones’, as [the American writer of the book series] George R.R. Martin once said: ‘A bruise is a lesson, and each lesson makes us better’. I’ve had a lot of bruises. This is something that I always remember before every game and inspires me to become a better athlete,” he said.

Shaikh Khalid noted that some Emiratis may feel they do not possess the “right strength, right speed or right physique” for the sport.

However, he stressed: “American football always has something for anyone, no matter who you are. It is not just about playing the sport, it’s about building your character and making you a better person through different emotions and obstacles. It’s an experience that they [Emiratis] will never forget, guaranteed.”

For the New England Patriots fan, American football has grown from a mere hobby, in which he and his friends mixed up the rules of rugby, to his life’s passion.

He said: “I can definitely say that I’m becoming more competitive, merely due to my temper flaring at times, especially at the end of the play-offs last year where I even threw my helmet to the ground with anger after our loss [to Abu Dhabi Wildcats]. At first, we started this as a hobby, but lately it’s becoming a part of our everyday life, where we just don’t play football, we breathe it, watch it, and live it as well.”

The EAFL features two Dubai outfits, the Stallions and Barracudas, along with the Abu Dhabi Wildcats and Al Ain Desert Foxes.

Shaikh Khalid hopes his home emirate of Sharjah may soon also boast a team, which he said would be a dream-come-true. “Being from Sharjah, it would be a great opportunity to expand the game to a lot of other emirates,” he said.

“We are having a lot of interest from people in Sharjah and we hope one day this will happen. At the moment, given my current job [as a private banker], it’s difficult to put much effort into this. Maybe one day I would coach the Sharjah team. That would be an even bigger achievement.”