Dilroy dreams big about American Football in Sri Lanka


By Chathura Pinnawala

Dilroy Fernando’s ground work in Rugby spreads in several spheres and the vast experience he has acquitted wandering the world can rival many. His latest venture, to usher in American Football to Sri Lanka through EFLI (Elite Football League in India)-a franchise based league launched for the first time in South Asia where one team from Sri Lanka will line up- is dramatic as well as revolutionary.  

Being the COO of EFLI in Sri Lanka, Fernando has again mirrored his will to monopolize a challenge. "The founders from America were looking for some contacts in Asia. Then they approached me and asked me to join the project. It’s not only in Sri Lanka; I’m handling the South Asian region. They knew that I have been doing Rugby development projects in Asia and I have been successful in introducing Rugby in many countries in Asia so that background must have helped them trusting my abilities."

In an island where Cricket is undisputedly the most publicized sport, the inevitable question that crops up is, can any other discipline revolt against the norm. Fernando is optimistic it can if you put in the hard yards. He says "at the beginning I didn’t want to admit it but American football is a professional sport. The incomes the players will earn, next to Cricket those are going to be the highest contracts in Sri Lanka. The main problem Rugby is facing is the amount of players leaving the sport after school solely because of lack of ways to get involved. The number of clubs has decreased gradually. In no way am I leaving my first love Rugby-I’m still actively involved with IRB. But American Football opens up a different dimension. Any athlete can take up the sport and be a star in it while being financially secure as well."

"We are trying to present it in such way that we believe it’ll be definitely popular. I can delve into my experience in Rugby and the ways IRB have utilized to roam in Asia. Those are invaluable and there are various ways you can promote it. For the time being, the organizers want to play all tournaments in India but I have persuaded them to maybe bring the 2013 or 2014 tournament to Sri Lanka. I’m certain that we can go places. The plans are ambitious and if we manage to bring a tournament to Sri Lanka, I want overseas fans to come here. It’ll bring income to the country and we can easily market Sri Lanka as a tourist destination as well. Enthusiasm is such that I have already received calls from Sri Lankans living in USA and Canada and since they know how deep rooted and fashionable the sport is."

So is American Football registered as a sport in Sri Lanka and does it have an association? "As for now, we have formed a company. It’s not an association or a federation. We are not forming a national team so it’s not compulsory to have an association. But I have spoken to the authorities and as the time passes by we intend to form an association as well."

Colombo Lions is the ninth and the final team of the inaugural competition. "We have selected the squad of 45 and the rights for Colombo Lions have already being bought. We’ll insure all the players and proper training and supplementations will be carried out. They’ll commence training in January and the tournament will be from September so there’s plenty of time to gel and hammer out a sustained challenge."

In America, the game has soared markedly and the television has been a crucial denominator in backpedalling the earlier giants-baseball and basketball.

"It’s a TV sport. Ten Sports have bought the rights and all the games will be shown live on television. The game lasts for one hour and that more people can include American Football to their bulletins."

"Number one is employment for the youth. If you take Rugby as an example, there are players who have played at the highest level but they don’t have a decent job. Then I want more of the young generation to be linked with sports. We have been very keen in sporting side of the spectrum which can be seen by how close we were to bring Commonwealth Games to Hambantota."

"It’s another sport that we are bringing into the country. In the long term, not immediately, I want to operate with the ministry of education and ministry of sports and get schools involved as well. So that we’ll have structures later on, which means more career opportunities and we could send players, officers alike to train in USA. The base which the whole program revolves around is to be strength to youth."

Dreaming big can be risky but sometimes it can be the heartbeat of revolutions too.

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