Interview: Oliver Rival Talks About Troubles In Football In France

Photo: Thomas Depaepe
How would you describe the evolution of American football in France?
There is good and bad stuff. The sport is improving regarding its geographical coverage, the number of clubs, members, the variety of the offer (more youth teams, more flag football, more cheerleading, women's teams...), the media coverage (thanks to the internet mostly). On the other hand, the Elite challenge is not going forward, and competitions suffers federal negligence in their organisation.

What is working? On what levels?
What is working, it's the clubs and the initiatives taken on every level. Clubs are created everywhere, and they use everything to get heard, to recruit, organize tournaments, events.. Volunteers, on a local basis, do an amazing job. It is a sport for passionate people, and you can feel that. There are efforts to be made concerning refereeing, coaching, and fields, but the progress is striking over the last seasons. The strength of American football in France is the passion and growing number of club managers.

What's wrong? On what levels?
What's wrong is the coordination among all this. There is a real gap between the federation, and clubs. Often also between local leagues, and clubs. Leagues are grotesque, with insane decisions being taken. Rules are totally out of step, and sometimes can not even be applied. The hard work out in by some clubs can go to waste because of a simple stupid decision taken by the authorities, highest or local ones. In the federation, too many people think only about themselves, when they are not completely incompetent. The last administrative general meeting was a disaster in my opinion. The renewal on the current team will slow down the progress of organising our sport.

The only thing the FFFA does well is stealing the best of the work done by clubs, and pretend it was them...
In consequence, some managers are quitting, many people give up because of that. This lack of communication and trust between the "base" and federal direction is what is responsible for the wreck spotted during Pôle espoir in Amiens this year. We reached a point where people who see the FFFA logo would just run away and try to find alternative ways.

The cream of the crop try to flee to North America, while others start their own little organisations, praying the FFFA will not come mess up with it.

How did the federation grew from 4.000 members in 1998, 12.000 in 2004, 15.000 in 2007, 20.000 in 2010 and 22.000 nowadays? Is there any explanation for that? Why the constant growth?
The level in 1998 was already very low, it resulted in a decline following the retirement of the first wave of US football, who stopped without working on the future, the training, youth teams.. Since our sport has been rebuilt from scratch, on stronger basis, with efforts on every sides to bring new people, train them, help them learn and love the sport.

US football always interested a lot of teenagers and kids, but for a long time it was tough to make them stay. Empty leagues, lack of coaches, long trips for games, more often than not, they left the clubs after a terrible season full of troubles. Now we have what it takes to make them want to stay, and it changes everything. After this, you enter a virtuous circle. More clubs, more games, shorter trips...

All this is pushing the sport the right way, especially with variations of the sport getting bigger and bigger. The growth of flag football is impressive, cheerleading is starting to matter... Clubs became big organised families, we are far from the DIY from the early days, people begin to take account of us in local communities... Internet also brings a big plus for a sport with low media coverage like ours. Managers and players, through social networks, clubs' websites, blogs, feel less lonely. They can learn about what happens elsewhere, follow their leagues, it allows everybody to enjoy the works of others in a better way...

Finally, what is missing for US football to take off to yet another scale in France?
Two things are missing now:
1. An exemplary, clear direction and federal policy that would allow to renew the trust between clubs and the federation. Right now, there is nobody at the wheel, the management is done on a day to day basis.
2. Better media coverage. There was a lot of progress in that area, but it remains sparse. We all know that TV broadcast is what makes or breaks everything. The Elite championship must find a way to get there, and so must international competitions. We all saw the impact of France Televisions talking about US football in France during the broadcast of the Superbowl.
But we must be careful, we have to show something good looking, well organised, in nice stadiums...

Quentin  Dagbert