'People here like violent sports a little' - American football arrives in Egypt

Story highlights

  • Organization promotes sport and helps disadvantaged children
  • Egypt now has two leagues and more than a dozen teams
  • American football growing in popularity with female athletes

Cairo, Egypt (CNN)It's an opportunity most people can only dream of -- being trained by stars from the National Football League.

That's especially true when former Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch is the man teaching you how to go into "Beast Mode." But this training is taking place more than 5,000 miles from the nearest NFL stadium.
Ten players from the American Football Without Barriers (AFWB) organization are in Cairo, Egypt, for a three-day camp.
    AFWB, founded by New York Jets' Breno Giacomini, Cleveland Browns' Gary Barnidge and Ahmed Awadallh, is a non-profit group devoted to promoting football and helping disadvantaged children around the world.
    The organization -- not affiliated to the NFL -- has already visited China, Brazil and Turkey.
    Within hours of arriving in Egypt, 400 people had signed up to learn from the best. More joined them from regional neighbors Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
    "Here is a sport that is new and is different in their culture, but it's a fun sport," says Barnidge, who plays tight end for the Cleveland Browns.
    NFL players hold training camp in Egypt
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      NFL players hold training camp in Egypt


    NFL players hold training camp in Egypt 02:30
    "It's a huge team sport. It builds lifelong friendships, and this is something that we want them to live with."
    One drill sees amateur players tackle a bag at full speed. If they are successful, they get Lynch's praise. But if they hit the bag with their head -- a dangerous move -- they are sent packing to do push-ups.
    "We are going to those countries to polish them up as players," says DeAngelo Williams, running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
    "We also want to polish them from the standpoint that you have to eat right, you have to be healthy, you have to make sure that you have the right equipment."

    Football's gathering momentum

    Soccer may be king in Egypt, but American football is growing in popularity. The country has two leagues and more than a dozen teams. The players have day jobs, but they gather together on the gridiron.
    Amr Hebbo, who founded the Egyptian Federation of American Football league in 2007, says the amateur game now has between 600 and 700 players and is continuing to expand.
    "People here in Egypt like violent sports a little bit, and this is very appealing to them," he explains.
    "So whenever people see this, they say: 'OK, this is amazing. I want to do this. I want to hit somebody.'"
    Hebbo has also seen how the sport has changed its players.
    "Now they are more dedicated to their studies and their team," he says. "Instead of going out and smoking shisha (a Middle Eastern water pipe), they actually go to practice, they work out, and they are more disciplined."
    Some local players are hoping the training camp can tune them up for a potential career in the sport.
    "I do it for fun, but there is a part of me that hopes one day I will get a chance to play in Europe or Canada," says Yousif Ahmed of the Cairo Hellhounds.
    "After seeing this camp and the success of the players, I'm making a commitment to play professionally."

    The Warrior who was worried

    It's not only men who are picking up the sport -- it's attracting female athletes, too.
    Players from Egypt's two female football teams, the Pink Warriors and She Wolves, attended the training camp.
    Hadeer Ayman is a wide receiver for the Pink Warriors. The 25-year-old, who works in marketing, didn't know much about football until her gym coach introduced her to the sport.
    "At first, to be honest, I was very worried because I thought it was physically tough -- I thought: 'Oh my God, I'm going die'," she says.
    "But when I learned that it's flag football and I learned about safety, I felt better."
    Ayman adds that her favorite part of the sport isn't the hitting but the running and scoring touchdowns.
    "I have a dream for the sport, especially for women here in Egypt, to prosper here," Ayman says. "The players taught us a lot, like discipline, respect, ethics and manners of the game."

    Charitable intentions

    But AFWB doesn't just provide a football training camp -- it also helps local charities.
    The players visited a children's cancer hospital, a cause close to Williams who has lost family members, including his mother, to the disease.
    "It was my first time since I've lost my mom, actually going through [a hospital] and it brought back a lot of memories," he says.
    "I had a lot of emotions built up when I went back. It was unbelievable, you know, what the kids go through."
    On game day, AFWB invited children from a local orphanage to play a game with the players. For many it was the first time they had ever been able to play on a green field, and they also stayed around to watch the big game at the end of the camp.
    The NFL players were on the field, coaching and critiquing every play. The game ended when the opposing team intercepted the ball and ran it back for a touchdown.
    "I think the sport will grow a lot. I see children playing football too," says Anis El-Shershabi of the Cairo Wolves.
    "I hope that, some day, it'll be as popular as it is in the United States and will be all over Egypt."