Stu­dents keen to pro­mote foot­ball in na­tion’s schools

China Daily (USA) - - CHINA - By SUN XIAOCHEN

When Dong Shi first saw a group of se­niors throw­ing around an oval-shaped ball on a soc­cer pitch in his fresh­man year at Guangzhou Univer­sity of Chi­nese Medicine, he was fas­ci­nated.

“I thought ‘ Wow, it looks so cool but what are they play­ing?’ That was my first im­pres­sion of Amer­i­can foot­ball — in­trigu­ing but strange,” said Dong, who is now in his se­nior year, ma­jor­ing in phys­i­cal health.

Driven by cu­rios­ity, he signed up with the univer­sity’s foot­ball team and be­gan to prac­tice twice a week. He has since cap­tained the var­sity squad in re­gional and na­tional com­pe­ti­tions.

“Now, there are more and more peo­ple get­ting in­ter­ested in this sport as they are ex­posed to it and have greater ac­cess to it,” Dong said last month, af­ter lead­ing his team to win this year’s Na­tional Foot­ball League China Univer­sity Bowl in Bei­jing.

In­tro­duced by the United States-basedNFLin 2009, the univer­sity bowl is a col­le­giate cham­pi­onship in which ath­letes play the less-phys­i­cal flag foot­ball with­out pro­tec­tive gear. This year’s event at­tracted 60 col­lege teams from across the coun­try.

In flag foot­ball, play­ers de­fend by re­mov­ing flag belts at­tached to their op­po­nents’ waists. To min­i­mize bod­ily con­tact, NFL-style tack­les are not al­lowed.

At the univer­sity bowl, Guangzhou Univer­sity of Chi­nese Medicine de­feated the Univer­sity of Shang­hai for Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy, 52-6, to win its third na­tional ti­tle in four years at Bei­jing’s Feng­tai Sta­dium.

Ac­cord­ing to Dong, who was named most valu­able player in the fi­nal, foot­ball is a per­fect fit for uni­ver­si­ties filled with young men as it pro­motes mas­cu­line qual­i­ties.

“I have re­ally en­joyed the team­work and close ties with my guys through­out all the years of play­ing the game. It’s been a real as­set in my life,” he said.

Richard Young, manag­ing di­rec­tor of NFL China, said the sport was in­creas­ingly be­com­ing ac­cepted on Chi­nese cam­puses.

“I don’t think the pur­pose here is to de­velop NFL play­ers. I think the pur­pose here is to have young peo­ple work in groups and learn to suc­ceed and even fail in groups, which is just as im­por­tant. Flag

I thought ‘Wow, it looks so cool but what are they play­ing?’ That was my first im­pres­sion of Amer­i­can foot­ball ...” Dong Shi, cap­tain of the var­sity foot­ball squad at the Guangzhou Univer­sity of Chi­nese Medicine

foot­ball is more about par­tic­i­pa­tion and be­ing to­gether with friends and learn­ing to fig­ure out how to solve prob­lems,” he said.

To fur­ther pro­mote in­ter­est in the game, this year’s fi­nal also fea­tured mini clin­ics on the side­lines as part of the NFL Play 60 youthen­gage­ment cam­paign, which al­lows spec­ta­tors to ex­pe­ri­ence and learn fun­da­men­tal skills with pro­tec­tion and guid­ance.

The Play 60 pro­gram in China has reached out to more than 19,000 peo­ple this year, while about 1.5 mil­lion view­ers tuned in ev­ery week to watch live NFL games on 15 me­dia plat­forms this sea­son, ac­cord­ing to NFL China.

Par­tic­i­pa­tion in tackle foot­ball is also on the rise as more than 50 am­a­teur clubs have been es­tab­lished na­tion­wide to play in grass­roots leagues such as the 16-team Amer­i­can Foot­ball League of China.

“In­ter­est is soar­ing but there re­main chal­lenges in pro­vid­ing more­ac­cess to the sport and chang­ing its rep­u­ta­tion among Chi­nese for be­ing dan­ger­ous,” said Shen Xizheng, gen­eral man­ager of AFLC club, the Shang­hai NightHawks.

Young ad­mit­ted that the sport is now lag­ging be­hind its Olympic coun­ter­parts such as soc­cer and basketball, but said the school-first strat­egy will help it close that gap.

“The chal­lenge is to over­come the thought that the game is for­eign or Chi­nese don’t play it. They do ac­tu­ally,” he said.

“The big pri­or­ity is work­ing more to spread out with leagues that are go­ing on here, maybe tackle or flag leagues, to in­crease the num­ber of op­por­tu­ni­ties for morekids to play. We want towork with all lev­els of schools in­clud­ing pri­mary and sec­ondary schools to spread it out.”

NFL CHINA / FOR CHINA DAILY

A Guangzhou Univer­sity of Chi­nese Medicine player pulls the flag belt off the waist of his op­po­nent at the fi­nal of the eighth NFL China Univer­sity Bowl in Bei­jing on Oct 30.

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