A pint-sized running back takes a handoff and scrambles across the goal line, spiking the football for a last-minute win. It could be any school field in America, but on a warm spring night in Beijing the star of the game is nine-year-old Lisa Li, one of the best players in China’s first American football youth league.
“I was so excited. Before I ran for the winning touchdown I thought to myself I just had to score,” Li said as her Eagles celebrated a come-from-behind 24-20 victory over the Sharklets.
Li plays running back and linebacker in the 16-team Future League run by GSG Sport, a Beijing company promoting America’s most popular game to parents seeking a new sport for children.
American football lags far behind soccer and basketball in China, but the huge potential market of 1.4 billion people has caught the attention of the National Football League.
This year’s Super Bowl championship was streamed live for the first time in China, where 1.5 million mostly young fans watch weekly NFL games on digital platforms.
Taking a page from American high school football, Future League games are held on Friday nights, complete with uniformed referees, cheering fans and a camera crew for post-game interviews.
“Lisa is much more confidant and much more brave after playing football,” said her father, Li Ning. (Elias Glenn/Reuters)