The heavens have opened up and it’s pouring down in Colombo. But that doesn’t foil a sturdy batch of athletes from training at Thurstan grounds. These men have history at their doorstep, to be the first Sri Lankans to have cuddled American Football. While i eagle-eye from distance, one man wearing a nike black shirt and shorts towers above them all. Not because of his size, for being the centre of attention of all the others. He won’t find the frisson of a NCAA game in the outcast here but he’s all pumped up when he meets me after a long day’s activity.
Tim Sirinivasan,21, is a Sri Lankan who changed locations in 2003 and excelled in America’s most sought after sport. He has played as a wide receiver and a running back for eight years. He’s the player cum coach of Colombo Lions which will represent Sri Lanka in the EFLI(Elite Football League in India) in its first season which starts in late 2012. ” I’m from Batticoloa and i left for USA in 2003. From the moment i saw the sport, i knew this was what i wanted to do for the rest of my life. I lived in Virginia and played for my high school team, then i was recruited to play in the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) and i lasted there for four years. Dilroy Fernando, CEO of EFLI in Sri Lanka is the one who i’m in contact with so it’s an honour and a priviledge to be part of this wonderful project and help my country to acclimatise to American Football.”
Sri Lankans seldom know the structure of the sport so he sags towards the basics. “It’s little bit similar to Rugby. You have eleven men on each side. The offence and the defence. To be basic, what the team on offence tries to do is advance the football down the field which is 100 yards long while the defence unit strategize to prevent them from doing so. If you advance the ball to the end zone then it’s worth six points with a point on offer for a correct conversion. What’s cool about this game is there’s different tactics to advance the ball.”
American football is an urban emperor of sorts which has relegated more prestigious and known sports in America like Baseball, Basketball, Ice Hockey to Lieutenants and Colonels. TV ratings for the games in America are unprecedented and Tim says it’s hard to pinpoint an exact reason for its sudden rise . “Football started over 100 years ago in America. Recently with the tv telecasting, huge sums of money being invested into the sport it has grown be the most popular sport in the states. It’s not just a game in America now, it’s a culture. You could say Football in America is equivalent to Cricket in South Asia.”
Cricket, it is. So how does he picture a bright future for this newest invader? ““It’s going to take time to for the sport to grow. But i think with a sport like football anybody can pick up its energy and begin to enjoy it in no time. Most of all its exciting and the playing time is short which makes it easier for people to slot it into their schedules. Luckily the league will be telecasted from its very first season which is a massive plus point. And the matches will be played at nights. A game finishes in one hour so it won’t take that much effort. I’m pretty sure that South Asia will quickly catch up on it because if you have seen it on television it’s so obsessive. Once you love this sport that feeling won’t leave you.”
How’s his time among students so far been? “It’s being two weeks. I visited my grandmother who’s in Batticoloa. Then i shifted to Colombo take up this task and it’s been an experience. These players are really humble and they are quick learners. I think this has the potential to be one of the best teams in the EFLI. If you want to be the best you got to have potential within you and i see it right before my eyes.Who knows there might be a Tom Brady (quarterback for New England Patriots), a Tim Tebow( quarterback for Denver Broncos) or a Peyton Manning (quarterback for Indianapolis Colts) here.”
Early 2000s brought drug scandals to sports and it didn’t evade NFL either. “There used to be a problem with players having access to drugs. But now it’s not possible because you are drug tested. Get tested positive for a banned substance and you can’t play. When these tests came to effect players stopped doing to it. If you can’t play, you can’t earn money which means you can’t eat.” Tim says with a smile.
Finally asked what his goal is, his answer maintains that touch of unsophisticated Sri Lankanness. Having played Football in USA there’s competency if he wants to be arrogant. ”I would like to be a coach. Come to Sri Lanka and help spread knowledge about this game through NFLI. “
Hardly a sign of diverting from his prevalent self-effacing and modest attitude. After all he’s Sri Lankan.