American Football Kicks Off in the Olympic City

Ambassador Moon speaking before the kickoff on Saturday in Sarajevo.

On Saturday, June 23, the Sarajevo Spartans played the Sofia Bears in the first American football game in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  This was only the second game for the Spartans, who went up against the more experienced Bears with the assistance of referees from Serbia, where – I was told – there are three leagues of about 30 teams. 

The Spartans played with gusto, but nonetheless were soundly beaten by the veteran Bears.  Despite the summer heat, more than 100 energetic Sarajevans – not including the curious onlookers from the neighboring Olympic pool – cheered on the Spartans.  The Bears were backed by a vocal contingent of Bulgarian soldiers from the EUFOR mission.

The Spartans are coached by expatriate Americans.  The club manager is a retired BiH military officer who spent time in the US for training programs –- his son, the team’s quarterback, played on a high school football team in Alabama.  The manager has aspirations for eventually developing five teams in BiH – the minimum number to form a league according to the European Federation of American Football.  He has heard that a team may be in the formative stages in Brcko. 

With this weekend’s historic step, a baseball league in BiH is not farfetched, and who knows, one day we may even have the Balkans American Football League!  I can’t help but think that Sarajevo, with its traditions of openness – not to mention the Olympics – is a fitting place for this sport to be making a local debut.