NFL looks to Olympics for growth pushing for flag football inclusion at the LA 2028 Games

United States’ National Football League (NFL) has officially announced its intention to pursue a spot on the Olympic Games program with flag football – the lighter, faster, non-contact format of American football.

Flag Football at the Birmingham 2022 World Games
Flag Football at the Birmingham 2022 World Games (Photo: IWGA)

President of the International Federation of American Football (IFAF) Pierre Trochet and Troy Vincent, NFL star athlete and now Executive Vice President of Football Operations of the NFL have been announced co-chairs of Vision28 – the group that will push for the sport’s inclusion at the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic Games.

“Not just 2028, we want to make flag football embedded in, and possibly part of the Olympic Games for decades to come, that’s our ultimate goal,” Vincent said from the sidelines of The World Games Wednesday.

The NFL partnered with IFAF  to debut men’s and women’s eight-team flag football tournaments at the World Games currently being held in Birmingham, United States. Both organizations intend to use the showcase as a springboard for Vision28 to LA 2028 Olympic Games inclusion.

Fast-paced and athletic 5-on-5 flag is said to be an accessible version of American Football that will appeal to Gen Z and modern sport consumption habits, only requiring competitors to have sneakers, a football and a flag. Matches can be played on outdoor fields, indoor arenas and in temporary urban sports parks creating flexibility and sustainability for the Olympics organizing committee.

“It’s different way to consume the sport,” NFL Executive Vice President of Club Business and League Events Peter O’Reilly said, elaborating on the sport’s international growth among young people who want the opportunity to mimic their NFL heroes.

Vision28 is touting flag in the Olympics as a winning partnership among stakeholders, with the NFL, IFAF and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) all seeing potential benefits.

For the NFL, Vincent told journalists in Birmingham “Where do you grow, where do you expand, where do more participants come from, where do fans? It’s flag. Being open to women it’s an all-inclusive sport. There are no barriers,” Vincent said adding “I think it’s tremendous for the game of football.”

“Flag football is a major priority for our international growth,” O’Reilly said of the NFL.

He also insisted that there are benefits for the IOC whose Executive Board will need to be sold on adding flag football to the list of 28 sports already on the LA 2028 program – with others competing for inclusion alongside IFAF.

O’Reilly said “We have incredible respect for the Olympic Movement. We have the great privilege of overseeing the Super Bowl every year. We host the IOC there, we learn from them, they learn from us.

“The bigger opportunity in addition to growing flag football for women and men around the world and growing it as a young, fast vibrant sport is also how can the NFL with IFAF come together with the IOC to do something really special in terms of growing global sport.

“Thinking about the fan experience, we think about it every day. We put on a big global event in Los Angeles last year with the Super Bowl.”

Vincent wouldn’t rule out the participation of current professional NFL athletes at the Olympics, something that would significantly raise the profile of the event and benefit the Olympic appeal – important factors when officials consider which sports to add to the Games.

When asked if the NFL would be open to its players participating, Vincent told “Absolutely, I think that’s what it’s all about. Choice, options, it is the ultimate acknowledgement, it’s the ultimate recognition for any athlete to be an Olympian – to represent your country.”

“Yes, we believe that there will be – and you want that open, open competition – the best can compete against the best, to represent their flag.”

For Vision28, IFAF President Pierre Trochet said the next step ahead of the 2023 final program decision is clear.

“We need to demonstrate we are a sustainable well-governed organization, that is the main goal at the moment,” he said.

Several other sports are already vying for limited positions on the sports program including baseball and softball that were featured at the Tokyo 2020 Games but will not appear at Paris 2024, cricket, flying disc, lacrosse, sambo and teqball. Four team sports are in the hunt along with flag, but most on the list will not be chosen when the IOC and LA 2028 make the final decision.

In May, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) revealed a checklist of six criteria to be considered when approving additional sports to the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic program. The list includes minimizing the cost and complexity impact on hosting the Games; engaging the best athletes in the sport while prioritizing health and safety; sport has wide interest in the host nation as well as global appeal; gender equality and youth relevance, integrity and fairness and environmental sustainability.

So far 28 sports have been approved for the LA 2028 program including 25 core sports along with surfing, skateboarding and sport climbing that were added based on their successful debuts at the Tokyo 2020 Games held in 2021. Long time sports including boxing, modern pentathlon and weightlifting have been left off the program, but have until next year to address certain deficiencies and become eligible for reconsideration.

The LA 2028 sports program is set to be finalized by the IOC Executive Board in 2023.

A senior producer and award-winning journalist covering Olympic bid business as founder of as well as providing freelance support for print and Web publications around the world. Robert Livingstone is a member of the Olympic Journalists Association and the International Society of Olympic Historians.

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