When the Elite Football League of India (EFLI) was first getting attention in the media a couple years back, most of the discussion surrounding the league seemed negative. Could an American football league really thrive in India?
While those doubts have certainly been put at ease of the last year and half, there was one story from the first season that indicated the league may have more of a far-reaching impact than most had expected.
The ability to [relatively] unite Pakistan and India, at least on the sports front.
Evan Rosenfeld, producer and director of Birth of a Sport, a film that documented the inaugural season of the EFLI, told a story about the potential of the sport in bridging the gap between religion and culture.
“The players came into the first season hating each other, and by the end they were good friends and celebrating together,” Rosenfeld said. “They all said they would be going back home to tell their friends and family that they met people from India/Pakistan and they are awesome.”
When asked to specify if something unique occurred to bring this conclusion, Rosenfeld didn’t hesitate a bit.
“In the beginning, it was noticeable,” Rosenfeld began to elaborate. “Both on the field and off. All the players were great people, but with deep seeded tension like that, that goes back generations, its hard to ignore. That all changed over the course of the season. We started seeing more players from both countries conversing on the sidelines. Then would see them hanging out off the field. It all culminated in one of the most amazing moments we have on film. The Pakistani players were having a party for their Independence Day celebration and they invited the Indian players over. They all hung out, sang, danced, fed each other cake and had a great time.
I didn’t realize the significance of this until after, when I interviewed some of the players, and they told me is was the most memorable moment of their lives. One of the guys from Pakistan told me they could get in trouble for hosting an event like this, but that it was worth it because it was helping to bring people together.”
The 2014 Unity Bowl presented by the EFLI will feature India and Pakistan facing off in Hyderabad, India on September 20.