EFAF is followed by IFAF Europe
2011: Spotlight on Spain
The new year is just a few days old, but in some European countries American Football teams already are in the final stages of preparation for their 2011 season. One of those „early birds“ in Europe to kick off their national season during wintertime besides France and Portugal is Spain, which features some of the most remarkable developments in recent American Football history in Europe. One of those is that when the 14-team LNFA starts with the first games on the weekend of January 22/23 for most of the teams this is already the second part of the season, which more accurately could be labeled as season 2010/11. Spanish federation is the only EFAF member federation that has adopted the concept of playing a cup competition as a second annual tournaments for its clubs. A concept quite common throughout all major sports in Europe, however a rare exception for American Football in Europe. In November the final for the Copa de Espana was a rematch of last year's championship game with reigning champion L'Hospitalet Pioners beating the Valencia Firebats by 46-23.
Perhaps it is this extra time of playing experience Spanish players enjoy that led to the rise of both the national and the club teams from Spain in European ranks in recent years? 2010 proved to be a very successful year for Spanish club teams in European competitions. Still it might be a long way to go for them to reach eye level with the strong German or Austrian sides, but Spain's teams clearly showed noticeable progress in their race with French and Italian teams for the „pole position“ in Southwestern Europe. The Valencia Firebats emerged as the quarter-finalist out of their EFL preliminary group with long-time French and Italian powerhouses Elancourt and Bergamo and became the first Spanish team to reach the second stage of the Eurobowl competition since 2004. The Badalona Dracs held off the Bolzano Giants and only had to accept a defeat at Vienna in the EFL preliminaries while the L'Hospitalet Pioners won at Zurich in EFAF Cup, but failed to make it to the semifinals because their home game against Parma had to be suspended due to the breakdown of European air travel in the aftermath of the Icelandic volcano eruption last spring.
Be sure to expect some more from these and other Spanish clubs in the near future, but Spain will be in the spotlight of American Football in Europe in many other ways in 2011. For the second time in a row the Spanish federation AEFA will be host for the European Junior Championships and already is preparing a one-time-in-a-life experience for the young athletes from the participating countries. A partnership with one of Spain's most renowned amusement parks, PortAventura, will enable the teams to stay in some splendid surroundings during the tournament. However, the host team on the field might not show that much of hospitality. In EJC 2008 the hosts already had France on the brink of defeat, and recent developments suggest the Spanish junior team might be even more a contender this summer. The Spanish federation has focused very much on youth development, and while the number of active athletes in total might still be small compared to figures from other European countries of similar size, it is growing rapidly. And because the ratio of senior players versus junior players in Spain is at a remarkable 50:50 rate, a solid foundation for further growth of American Football on the Iberian peninsula has been laid.
All this has been accomplished by AEFA despite of some of the most difficult conditions to establish a novelty in European sports like American Football. With two of the wealthiest sports clubs of the world (easily surpassing even any NFL franchise in economic size) in Real Madrid and CF Barcelona and the national soccer team as a reigning World and European champion in the country, AEFA administrators often enough might feel like Don Quijote fighting against the windmills, when they have to explain to possible business and governmental partners why they are in love with some different kind of football. Since its foundation in 1995 AEFA as a union of the regional federations of the Spanish provinces has learned to cope with this situation and accumulated experience over the years. In 2011 the European American Football community will benefit from the Spanish support at the European Junior Championships - and it might not be long until Spanish teams will impress even more on the rest of the continent. As the French proved in the 2010 European Championship it is only a matter of years, until investments in youth development, like AEFA currently is undertaking, will pay off.
AEFA President Enrique Garcia de Castro which also serves as EFAF Vice-President: "Our mission is to grow and build new excellence for players level. Our 4 years program, called PTJ, which we started last season, for the improvement of the level of our players, Junior and Senior, is based on continuity. The next 4 years will be decisive for our sport in Spain. On 2011 we expect to reach the status of National Federation which means more resources and will be the final consolidation of our sport in Spain. We expect to bring to our European friends a high level Junior Championship, and we hope to improve our ranking on European competitions. Continuity and stability are the words and I am sure, that in the next 4 years, our programs will gave their fruits."