America’s Super Bowl championship football game kicks off on Sunday. Well over 100 million people are expected to tune in, mostly in the U.S. but also in countries like Great Britain, Mexico and China.
American professional football is trying to establish a toehold in China with the help of the only full-blooded Chinese football player to ever play in the U.S.
CGTN’s Hendrik Sybrandy reports from Denver.
American football gaining popularity among Chinese athletesAmerica's Super Bowl championship football game kicks off on Sunday. Well over 100 million people are expected to tune in, mostly in the U.S. but also in countries like Great Britain, Mexico and China. American professional football is trying to establish a toehold in China with the help of the only full-blooded Chinese football player to ever play in the U.S. CGTN's Hendrik Sybrandy reports from Denver.
Just as in the U.S., T.V. announcers are practically breathless as they narrate highlights of a game in China. The professional China Arena Football League recently finished its first season.
“So I do everything from helping them find arenas to organizing events,” said Ed Wang, the China Arena Football League Vice President.
“It’s a very new sport there. A very new market but it’s gaining traction. And it’s growing at a rapid pace I would say,” continued Wang.
We first met Ed more than four years ago in the U.S. where American football is king. The first full-blooded Chinese football player in the National Football League was trying to win a spot on the Oakland Raiders.
“A lot of people say Chinese people can’t play football because they’re too small or whatnot, and I’m just trying to prove to them that I can,” Wang previously said.
Ed’s parents, former Olympic athletes, encouraged their son, who’s two meters tall and weighs 145 kilograms, which is about 6’5, and almost 320 pounds. Wang says this is unusual in the Chinese culture.
“The parents of mostly Chinese people, they don’t really push their kids to participate in sports. And when they do, it’s not really the physical sports,” said Wang.
That’s starting to change, whether it’s lacrosse, rugby or now American football.
“The sport hasn’t been there so they haven’t had the exposure to it,” said Wang.
But Ed was amazed several years ago by how open athletes in China were to American football.
“We were teaching them just little things, and they were picking it up so fast. Just how smart they were and how they just soaked everything up. It was incredible,” said Wang.
Ed Wang was a trailblazer of sorts. He got a lot of publicity for being the first Chinese player to set foot on a pro football field. He heard his share of race-related insults which he always managed to shrug off.
“Once you get on the field, all that stuff doesn’t really matter anymore. It comes down to whether you can play football or not,” said Wang.
“You can’t really fake it. Once you get on the field, all your weaknesses and your strengths, they get exposed,” continued Wang.
Injuries cut short his career in 2013. Now he’s promoting a six-team indoor league where four Chinese and four foreign players take the field for each side at one time. Expansion within China and across Asia is on the horizon. Women’s American football is a possibility, too.
“We can get to that too for sure, for sure,” said Wang.
In the meantime, Chinese fans will watch the Super Bowl. Ed says they have a clear favorite.
“100 percent the Patriots,” said Wang.
But the question remains will China acquire a real taste for this import?
“We always say the more football, the more exposure in China right now, the better for everybody,” said Wang.
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David Niu talks to CGTN’s Mike Walter about American football in China. He’s the President of AFL Global and is one of the people bringing American Arena football to China.