When you think of American football, you think automatically of the NFL and of the United States as being the main country in which American football matches take place, either at professional level in the NFL or, out on the gridirons of colleges and universities, at a nonprofessional level. However, efforts by the NFL to promote American football and the league itself have helped the game to grow outside of the US.
One country you may feel surprised to learn that American football matches take place in is Kenya. American football was introduced into this African country in 2012. Though the sport is taking some time to truly earn the love of sports fans in Kenya, it has been gradually establishing itself in the country. The NFL is working hard to build a fanbase in Kenya, and maybe there will come a time when checking the NFL week 1 odds becomes a common activity amongst sports fans in Kenya, but for now, there’s a long road ahead. Below is a look at American football in Kenya.
The presence of American football in Kenya
It was the University of Nairobi that first embraced American football in that all-important 2012. Things didn’t get off to an easy start, however. Lack of equipment was a problem. Since then, Kenya has managed to address it and has been slowly trying to wrap its arms even further around the sport and the number of teams grew to three university teams and two community teams that compete in the local 9-men league.
The combined national university team participated in the inaugural East African Championship, which took place in Uganda, in 2012. The teams of five nations participated, and Kenya didn’t quite come out on top but, overall, finished in a respectable second place. Kenya also made the most of an opportunity to showcase the game at the FASU 2014 Games, which took place at the University of Nairobi and in which 10 nations were participants.
The game even has its own association, the Kenya Federation of American Football (KFAF). This organization is a governmental non-profit organization registered by the country’s Ministry for Sport and Culture. The purpose of the organization is to govern and regulate American football and promote it. The KFAF is also an affiliate member of the International Federation of American Football (IFAF).
The presence of the NFL in Kenya
The NFL has been keen to expand its presence in Africa, and in 2022, it delivered an NFL program successfully in Ghana. The success of the venture encouraged the league to expand into Kenya, and a talent identification camp and an NFL Flag football showcase were held in Nairobi in April 2023. The camp was an NFL Combine-style one and was three days long. It gave 29 prospects aged between 16 and 21 a golden opportunity to display their skills. These prospects came not just from Kenya, but also from Cameroon, Morocco, Senegal and Nigeria. They were competing for invites to the NFL International Combine, NFL International Pathway Program or for an opportunity to join the NFL Academy in the UK. These are part of the league’s attempts to further pathways for international athletes to make it into the NFL.
The NFL Flag football showcase
The Flag football showcase, meanwhile, introduced young people from 10 schools across Nairobi to the game. The NFL, alongside the Flag football showcase, also provided training clinics for local teachers and for the KFAF to help develop the coaching skills to deliver NFL Flag football and broaden participation across Kenya.
NFL Flag football is one of the fastest growing sports around the world, and empowers young athletes, both boys and girls, and kindles within them a lifelong passion for American football. The Flag football program gave young Kenyans an opportunity to learn to play the game.
What makes American football attractive to Kenyans?
More than 125 players of Africa descent from 15 countries across Africa now play in the NFL. This serves as huge inspiration for any young Kenyan who dreams of making it to the NFL someday. If these players can get to the NFL and African basketballers can get to the NBA, there’s no reason why they can’t.
NFL camps aren’t the only American football initiative to have been held in Africa. Kenyans may well have heard of The Uprise, a football program that started in Nigeria but which has also held regional camps in Ghana and South Africa. These are another opportunity for young African players to exhibit their talent and, hopefully, find a path into the NFL.
The NFL is working hard to develop and expand its fanbase in Kenya, and to find the young Kenya NFL players of tomorrow. Programs such as the NFL camps in Kenya are one way of doing this, and one day the world may see more Kenya stars on the league’s gridirons.