By Aditi Maheshwari
The 24-years-old Salma Azzaoui created the American Football Dragons to promote the sport in Morocco. American football is not as popular as other sports in the country like soccer and basketball.
American football began to gain some popularity in 2012 in Morocco — with several clubs and associations emerging in the country. With a population of more than 34 million people, Morocco has only eight men’s teams and around five women’s squads who practice the sport. Salma Azzaoui — who discovered her passion for the sport while playing rugby at university, for two years before turning to American football, has since then continued and created the American Football Dragons to further promote it among her fellow countrywomen. “I played rugby and when I knew about American football, I thought why not try it, and since then I fell in love with this sport. “The idea of creating this female team came when I noticed that all the teams that existed were mixed even though there was not a team for only women …. only for men.” Azzaoui and her teammates met two days per week to practice the sport they love and refine their skills.
The 24-year-old initially thought she would face many obstacles when trying to create awareness about American football amongst her peers. Her passionate journey of four years led her to evolve in many mixed amateur clubs (men and women) before the idea of creating a 100% female team (footballers, managers, and technicians) came to her mind. “I decided not to confine my abilities on the lawn anymore”, says Salma, whose dream came true after obtaining a certificate from one of the American institutes specializing in the training of young people, but also through the creation of an association and the formation of a board and a technical committee made up exclusively of women. On creating an Instagram page to showcase and promote it, she received numerous questions from women — from complete newbies to experienced players, who wanted to take part in the sporting games. After starting “dragons of American football”, Salma explained that the hardest part was to convince the ladies to practice “flag football” which is known to be a derivative of American football, reputed to be easier to attract women since physical contact is less important. According to her, this sport derived from American football is relatively more accessible to women, the tackles being replaced by the tearing off strips of fabric – called flag – hung on the belt of the players which makes it possible to stop or intercept the opponent and to prevent it from scoring.
She also highlighted the difficulty of reconciling and balancing her studies, her practice of football, and the management of the Association, noting that training requires two sessions – one in the morning and one in the afternoon – at least twice a week. Regarding the place of training, the president of the association indicated that the availability of a stadium (generally one of the fields near Rabat) at the time specified for training is often a problem, although the stadium of American football is completely different in terms of dimensions and technical standards. Technical support, in particular for players who have acquired experience, Salma relies on coaches who have high-level training and experience in this area, in particular, Fatime-Zahra Ouane and Samah Maanaoui. However, imparting the basic training to beginners, it is Salma who takes care of this section, particularly about the technical aspect, physical training, and even mental support. The objective of creating a 100% female association for American football, explains Salma, is to allow ladies to discover and encourage this sport in Morocco, but also to allow them to prove themselves and to forge a personality through the principles, values, and practice on which this sport is based. She influenced largely this field of sport, mainly its female version, she expressed her wish to see the national bodies capable to bring this sport on a national platform, pay more attention and giving right opportunities to the people and to win along with other sports disciplines newly created in Morocco.
Amina Sour, Dragons American football team member is extremely passionate about American football. She said, “For me, American football is not only a hobby but a sport that can be done by everyone. I’m serious, I attend the training session. *I’m working to improve myself, to improve at the same time my team, especially as there are many teams and matches to play in the future.”
While waiting for real opportunities from the supervisory authorities, Salma has decided to establish contacts with foreign associations specializing in US football, particularly in the United States, to establish partnerships and take advantage of their experiences in the training and acquisition of material and equipment necessary for the practice of this sport. American Football in the North African country is still unstable without the existence of a proper legal federation or even a league. Salma and her teammates have taken the initiative to rectify the situation and spread the sport they appreciate nationwide.