American football in Tunisia

Written by: Gretchen Sims | Editor-in-Chief

It’s hard to imagine the world of football outside of America, without the billion-dollar industry, massive stadiums and enthusiastic fans. However, American football is played across the globe with leagues in Germany, Canada, France, Japan, Brazil, Australia, Netherlands and, recently, Africa. 

While American football was established in Egypt and Morocco in the early 2000s, newer teams have begun to take over the scene as the sport works to make itself a recognizable sport across Africa.  

One of these African teams, the Carthage Eagles, sprung out of Tunisia and has secured its place as the National American Football Team of Tunisia. However, creating an American football team in Tunisia was not easy, nor did it happen overnight. The idea was first put forth on social media and grew from there by word of mouth. 

While the program grew slowly at first, the Eagles now consist of players from all over the world — most based out of Germany, France, Italy and Turkey — who are of Tunisian descent. This does, however, lead to obstacles in team building such as language barriers, travel challenges and differing levels of play.

Amine Ben Abdelkarim, an Eagles’ linebacker and the current program President, founded the first Tunisian team in 2014. Abdelkarim reflected on this as well as what inspired him to pursue building the team. 

“…I started practicing football when I moved to France in 2013. I joined a French team, Garches Kiowas. In 2014 I heard that Morocco and Egypt played two games to reach the World Cup, so I said to myself how come there’s no Tunisian team? Starting that day, it became my aim. Building a Tunisian national team based on experienced players who have Tunisian origin,” Abdelkarim said.

To many, the thought of an American football team in Tunisia was implausible. Additionally, Abdelkarim, the linebacker with a dream, had many obstacles stacked against him. 

“I started football at the age of 32… The age players end their careers…” said Abdelkarim. “(It was also crucial to) convince Tunisian authorities that we can practice that sport in Tunisia and it can attract people.”

The Tunisian government was persuaded to accept American football after the team hosted a program for over 70 Tunisian children, where they demonstrated their passion and love of the sport to the next generation. The camp was observed by the sports minister and mayors of the country. After the camp, approval was granted for the sport to integrate itself as a part of Tunisian society. 

The team’s success, however, can not be credited to just the players’ passion and love for the game. None of this would have been possible without Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator, Cevin Conrad, who assimilated players of all different levels, molding them into a cohesive team. 

Conrad was born in Oregon and moved to Germany after meeting his wife. It was there that Abdelkarim approached him about coaching the Tunisian team. 

“I started by looking for Tunisian players and at the same time a HC (Head Coach) who could be interested (in) the project. And this is how I met Cevin Conrad — the godfather of my daughters now,” said Abdelkarim.

Conrad was interested in the idea of a Tunisian national team.

“It seemed like such a crazy idea — and I helped build up football in Germany — I knew how tough something like that would be and I kind of wanted to hear what it would be about because it sounded kind of strange. That’s how I got in contact with Amine,” said Conrad.

One of their main obstacles was finding players and then bridging language gaps and distance between them.

“Amine told me about his dream to have football in Tunisia — have the Tunisians come together — and how they were a minority and how difficult it all was. I thought, well if I didn’t help them, probably nobody else would or could. So I decided to help Amine realize his dream.”

Soon after, Defensive Coordinator, Rene Hesse, was brought on board. The Eagles also occasionally host guest coaches from America. 

In 2017, the newly fledged Tunisian team faced off against the established Morrocan team for the Africa championship. This was the first African v. African game. Tunisia, who hosted, was far from taken seriously. American football in Morocco had been an established program for 10 years and their national team had played before, while this was the Tunisian team’s first game.  

The Tunisian team knew that putting up a good fight in this match would cement the validity of their program. 

Many of the players sacrificed much to be at the game. They left their families, their homes and, often, their countries to chase a dream that many didn’t think possible — the true underdogs. 

There was no extravagant stadium waiting for their arrival, nor millions of spectators, yet the enthusiasm that day rivaled that of an NFL game. Abdelkarim led his team onto the field, not knowing this game would put them in the history books and solidify the Eagles’ position in Tunisian sports. 

Yassin Ouarghi, a defensive tackle for the Eagles, was there in the 2017 game against Morocco. 

“It was a great experience. The victory was an amazing feeling because we worked so hard to become a close-knit team. It was our first official national game, and then we won by such a large margin. Additionally, the game was a home game, which made it truly special. Despite the sport not being very well-known in Tunisia, quite a few spectators came. Some relatives from both abroad and within the country came to watch the game. During the week leading up to the game, we held a workshop with children from the region. They also attended the game and were really enthusiastic and cheered along with us,” said Ouarghi.

The Morrocan team assumed they had the game in the bag.

Before the game, the Moroccan coach informed Conrad that, when they were 30 points ahead, he would send in his second-string players out of mercy so the Tunisian team would have a chance at scoring. 

“The statement from the Moroccan coach spurred me to push even harder to defend and represent myself, my team, and my country. The victory in the end was a real satisfaction. We were significantly superior to the Moroccans in every position and practically overran them,” said Ouarghi. 

The final score was 36–0, with Tunisia pulling out the underdog win.

It wasn’t just a victory for the Eagles, it was a victory for the future of American football. Conrad, an advocate for expanding American football to the rest of the world, was ecstatic about this win. 

“It was inspiring. A lot of things were riding on my back, but I just really wanted to help these people. So it was really moving to see the exuberation, the happiness, that these people, my team, the group, all together reached what they, at the beginning, considered an unreachable goal” said Conrad. 

“I didn’t do it for me, I did it for them. It’s a beautiful thing to see when you give to people and see how they can grow, and it brings people together. It was very very very inspiring. One of the memorable moments of my life.” 

Now, the Carthage Eagles only have the future to look forward to. 

The Tunisian team held a training camp at the end of December 2023 in Gummersbach, Germany. There, many newly recruited team members from around the world met for the first time. 

Skander Riou, an Eagles’ guard, was one of these recruits. Even though the team only had a few days together, they were able to bond ahead of the 2024 African Championship against Egypt.

“The team dynamic is pretty cool. It was my first time with the Tunisia team, but I had the impression I know everyone and we are all friends,” said Riou.

The next step for the team will be competing in the World Cup, but the Eagles have their eye on something more. 

The year 2028 will be the first Summer Olympic Games to include American flag football, allowing the Eagles to compete on the world stage. The Tunisian team, however, is a full-contact football team with little experience with flag football. There is hope for future Olympic cycles to include tackle football, but for now, teams must adapt to flag rules. 

To prepare for a potential bid for the Olympics, the Eagles have begun implementing flag football leagues into Tunisia’s established American football program. 

Regardless of the challenges, the Tunisian team is currently planning to take their team to Los Angeles in 2028. The team paints themselves as the next Jamaican bobsled team — striving to achieve the impossible — and asks for any American football players of Tunisian descent to consider joining their cause as they work towards etching their names into history books.

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