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Flag Football Makes Its Move Toward the Olympics

6 Jun, 2021

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

We already know flag football is on the rise; in fact, next summer, it will make an appearance on the international multi-sport stage when it debuts at the World Games in Birmingham, Alabama. So maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that organizers want it showcased at the 2028 Olympics.

Inside The Games noted that Richard Maclean, president of the International Federation of American Football (IFAF) told reporters from Reuters he was "very hopeful" of flag football making an Olympic appearance in 2028.

"The global growth of the game that we think can come from that is great; more people playing any version of the game of football is good," Maclean stated. "Flag can be a path to tackle for some people and it excites countries and communities in the pursuit of Olympic medals so for those reasons we think it is great. It is a way for people to connect with the game and obviously LA 2028 presents a lot of unique factors that are interesting in terms of location in the US and timing."

The NFL has already noted it will back the bid. Damani Leech, COO of the NFL’s International Division, confirmed the league’s support, and added that while the IFAF is driving the campaign, the NFL will assist.

It is worth noting that the NFL leant its support to the campaign to have flag football included in the World Games in Birmingham. Hosted at Birmingham's historic Legion Field, Flag Football @TWG2022 Presented by the NFL will feature eight men's teams and eight women's teams from around the world – including both U.S. teams, currently the reigning world champions.

IFAF has seen steady growth of flag over the past few years, with the 2021 Flag Football World Championships seeing the largest number of participating teams ever – 42. (The tournament will take place in December in Jerusalem).

For comparison purposes, the most recent edition of the world championships of another growing sport – lacrosse, in 2018 – had 46 teams, making it the largest World Lacrosse Championships to date.

The sport is also growing wildly at the college level; NAIA labeled it an emerging sport for women, and the organization recently crowned its first champion. And to get a younger demographic, Nike is partnering with the NFL to drive girls’ participation.

According to an article in SGB Media, along with state associations in Florida, Georgia, Alaska and Nevada that have implemented programs, Alabama is involved in discussions to add the sport this year. The Georgia High School Association conducted its first GHSA Flag Football Championship in December with Calvary Day School winning the A-5A title and West Forsyth claiming the 6A-7A crown. About 90 schools were involved in the first year of sanctioned competition.  

Nike also announced a new grant initiative with the NFL that commits a total of $5 million in product to grow girls’ flag football within high school athletics. This multi-year initiative will provide a one-time donation of up to $100,000 in product to state athletic associations that offer girls flag football as a high school or pilot program beginning in 2021.

First to receive the grant will be Florida, which has promoted girl’s flag football for more than ten years.

At present, only six states sanction high school flag football for girls — Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, and New York.

“The expansion of girl’s flag football is essential to the growth of the game and preservation of the values it has contributed to society for decades,” said Troy Vincent, NFL executive vice president, Football Operations. “Girls flag demonstrates that football is for all, and the greater the participation, the stronger the game and the more young women can build the transferrable skills football provides for achieving success in life.”

This summer, the Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board and Flag Football Life will host an all-female flag football tournament at The Proving Grounds sports complex in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. The We Run the World Flag Football Tournament will be staged August 14–15 and will feature more than 45 youth female teams in 8U, 10U, 12U, and 14U to 17U divisions, a 10-plus adult female five vs. five division, a non-contact pro women’s division and a showcase for NAIA.

The event will be open to the public and is expected to attract up to 750 spectators with an estimated economic impact of more than $200,000. Games will be played on two full-size turf soccer fields, which equates to eight five vs. five flag football fields.

With an all-out blitz, the NFL wants to ensure the sport not only reaches the youngest but also the most elite in the Olympics. It won’t be alone as a competitor, though. Following the International Olympic Committee's Agenda 2020 reforms, host cities can put forward potential additional sports to be added to the program for the Games.

For Tokyo 2020, baseball and softball (one lobby), karate, sport climbing, skateboarding and surfing were added to the program. Paris 2024 opted to retain sport climbing, skateboarding and surfing and also added break dancing.

Apart from flag football, the hopefuls for L.A. in 2028 are lacrosse, baseball and softball, surfing, sport climbing and skateboarding. Cricket has said it will lobby for inclusion, as will squash (which has been trying to get in since before 2012). And with either four or five spots on the line, competition is expected to be fierce.

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