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28 Dec, 2008 20:14

American football the Russian way

Moscow hosted the Junior American Football championship finals on Saturday. It’s hard to believe but the game, so closely associated with the United States, first appeared in Russia during Soviet times.

Before getting to the final, the teams played regular-season matches and then competed in a knockout stage.

The Moscow Mustangs and the Sevastopol Titans met each other in the decisive game.

Back in 1989, the winds of change brought more than perestroika to the Soviet Union. The first American football team was formed in Moscow.

Other regions from Ukraine to the Caspian Sea and from Siberia to Belarus followed suit. That same year, the Moscow Bears had their first international encounter in West Berlin.

The first and only championship of the Soviet Union was held two years later in 1991.

“In the mid 90s, the majority of the teams ceased to exist and enthusiasts decided to save the sport in Russia and created the Junior American football league,” Vasily Dobriakov, Moscow Mustangs coach, said.

The funding is believed to come from the Moscow government which supports all the clubs in the league.

Today, players from the age of eight to 15 have an opportunity to participate in up to eight tournaments a year.

Youngsters from across the country take the game seriously and hope American football will have a bright future in Russia.

“I would love it if football became big in Russia. We already have adult teams that compete in various championships and they actually earn money doing it,” Georgy Cherniakovich, Titans quarter-back, said.

After the junior league was established, football's chances of surviving in Russia improved. The American football Union of Russia was born to promote the sport on a national and international level.

The national team, including the juniors, now successfully takes part in various events on the world circuit.

Enthusiasm and hard work are certainly all necessary for success. But funding remains a crucial question. The way it looks now, if the Moscow government continues to support American football, then it has a very good chance of surviving in Russia.