Hannes Richter

American Football Kicks Off in Austria

Hannes Richter

The IFAF World Championship of American Football will be hosted by Austria from July 8th to 16th, 2011.

by Elisabeth Kollreider

The IFAF American Football World Championship will be held in Austria from July 8th until July 16th, Australia, Germany, France, Mexico, Canada, Japan, the current champion USA, and Austria will compete for the title of World Champion. The tournament will take place in the Austrian cities of Innsbruck, Graz, and Vienna. Michael Eschlböck, the president of the Austrian American Football Association (AAFA), said: "Never before has there been a bigger World Championship. We will play in the biggest stadiums and for the best fans.”

Although Austria is widely known as a skiing haven and home country to several Olympic champions, it has also been closely linked to AmericanFootball, be it for economic reasons or out of passion for sports. As far as the economic side in concerned, Austrian companies do what they know best; they provide highquality specialty products ranging from mouth guards (Orthodontic Laboratory Monika Wimmer, Vienna) to temperaturesensing devices for the helmets.

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Player in the Austrian National Team, and Austrian Federal President Heinz FischerDragan Tatic

American Football in Austria can be traced back to the year 1978 when the first American Football team was formed: the Vienna Ramblocks. Six years later, in 1984, the Ramblocks, the Graz Giants, and the Salzburg Lions laid the structural foundation for an American Football culture overseas by founding the Austrian Football League (AFL) and by introducing the Austrian Bowl, Austria’s annual American Football championship, which is held under the auspices of Austria’s American Football Association.

Since 1984, several other teams have also been founded and joined the playing field. In 2011, eight teams, including the Prague Panthers from the Czech Republic, will participate in Austria’s highest American Football league. Allow me to provide you with some facts and figures on American Football in Austria these days: more than 52,000 fans came to see an Austrian Football League (AFL) game in 2010. The highest number of spectators was reached in 2009 by the Swarco Raiders Tirol with 6,500 fans attending a single game.

In addition to the national championship, American Football teams regularly from Austria and successfully participate in competitions at the European level. Each year since 1986, the best national European American Football teams have locked horns under the auspices of the European Federation of American Football (EFAF) to fight for the most sought-after title in the European amateur league, the Eurobowl. For six years in succession, from 2004 to 2009, teams from Vienna and Tyrol took the trophy home. The winner of the 2010 Eurobowl XXIV, however, was a German team, the Berlin Adlers.

Having won six titles overall, Austria is a close runner- up behind Germany with seven. Italy is in third place with five Eurobowl cups in their display cabinet. Nevertheless, the highlight of American Football culture in Austria will undoubtedly be the 4th World Championship of American Football held in Vienna, Innsbruck, and Graz under the patronage of the Federal President of Austria, Dr. Heinz Fischer. On July 4, 2009, at a conference in Canton, Ohio, the International Federation of American Football (IFAF) confirmed that Austria would host the 4th world championship.

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Herbert KratkyThe IFAF unites more than fifty countries from five different continents with the aim of promoting American football and fostering international cooperation in organizing competitions worldwide. "The World Championship will definitely be a historic event for the development of this sport and we are looking forward to receiving guests from all over the world who will make this event something truly special," Michael Eschlböck (AAFA) said.

For that matter, the AAFA has worked and is working extensively on developing promotional and marketing concepts that will make the most out of this one-in-a-million chance and event. In addition to concentrating on the fun as well as entertainment factor, the AAFA wants to complement traditional public relations with social media sources in order to reach out to a broader and more international audience. The aim is to mobilize as many fans and supporters of American Football as possible to come to Austria’s biggest stadiums and cheer for their football team or attend public viewings (e.g. in Innsbruck, organized by the local team Swarco Raiders Tirol).

The World Championship may also turn out to be a melting pot for members of the business community, tourism, and politics. In economic terms, a simple calculation is sufficient to illustrate the economic implications of the 2011 IFAF World Cup for the host cities: An American Football Team consists of 45 players and 15 staff members, who will stay in high-class hotels for a minimum of 12 nights, and who will enjoy catering services around the clock.

Also keep in mind that American Football players are not exactly known for their restricted diets. Eight American Football Teams will participate in the World Cup, which is probably going to attract 50,000 additional guests from abroad. Mission 2011: By participating in the 2011 IFAF World Cup, Austria’s American-Football Team will reach the last stage of its own Mission 2011. In 2006, a new Austrian team was created by the AAFA with a tight schedule and ambitious goals: to advance from the C - European Cup in 2007 to the 2011 World Championship within only five years.

Strengthened by the international success stories of local football teams and thanks to the hard work of reputable and experienced head coaches, Team Austria was able to qualify for the 2011 IFAF World Cup by reaching third place in the A-European Cup 2010 in Frankfurt. Head coach Rick Rhoades and his Team Austria will have to deal with a tough group B, including Japan, which hosted the 2007 American-Football World Cup. In addition, Austria will have to face elite teams like Canada and France.

All games will be held at the UPC Arena of Graz with an overall capacity of 15,400 seats. Other than that, the current World Champion USA, the European Champion Germany, Mexico, and Australia will also join the tournament. The games will take place at the Tivoli Stadium in Innsbruck, one of the most modern arenas in Austria. The Tivoli provides room for 16,000 spectators and offers stunning views of the Alps. The finals of the World Championship will be held at Vienna's Ernst-Happel-Stadium, the only five-star arena in Austria, where the victory ceremony will take place in the presence of 50,800 fans. Being an American-football player myself, no excuse in the world will keep me from being there.

Elisabeth Kollreider, an active American Football player is a former member of the editorial team at Austrian Information and a student at Innsbruck University.