American football gains popularity in China

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BEIJING (AP) The scene could be from any U.S. suburb: two teams of youngsters in football helmets, cleats and pads; referees in pinstripes; parents snapping photos and cheering from the sidelines. But the clipboard-toting coaches call out plays in Chinese and the field is at a park in Beijing.

China’s capital might seem an unlikely place to find American football, but interest among China’s youth is growing, according to Shen Yu, marketing director for Great Stone Gridiron. The private football club was Beijing’s first when it was founded three years ago. Around 500 children participate, including about 150 in tackle football programs.

Part of the game’s appeal is its outsider status and its association with American culture. Also, it’s popular with kids who are big for their age, or who haven’t excelled in the Olympic sports that China’s sports programs focus on.

“Because it’s not part of that system, it gives the chance for ordinary people to play,” said Wes de Kirby, 25, an American coach with Great Stone Gridiron.