The NFL is pushing hard for flag football ahead of the Olympics

Flag football will make its debut in an international multisport event during next week’s World Games in Birmingham, Alabama.

The NFL is perhaps the greatest cheerleader in the sport.

“When we talk about the future of football, without question, it’s flag,” NFL manager Troy Vincent told The Associated Press. “If I’ve been asked, especially in the last 24 months, what does the next 100 years look like if you look at football and not professional football, then it’s flag. It’s inclusion and the true motto ‘football for all’. ‘ There’s a place for everyone in flag football.”

Vincent points to the growing number of men and women playing flag football around the world. He is encouraged that six states — Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada and New York — have sanctioned flag football as a collegiate sport in high school, with 20 other states interested or in the process of granting approval.

Several NFL clubs are supporting high schools in their respective states to fund the initiative. The Atlanta Falcons unveiled a girls’ flag wall at their stadium in May. The league says 450 schools and more than 10,000 girls participate in flag football across the country.

It was an important step when the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics declared women’s flag football an emerging sport in 2020. The National Junior College Athletic Association did the same.

“It’s a low-cost sport that’s doable for everyone,” Vincent said.

The NFL has partnered with the International Federation of American Football to bring flag football to the World Games in anticipation of the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

“This is the ultimate goal of making flag football an Olympic sport,” said Vincent.

Sixteen of the world’s top flag football teams will be battling for gold for the first time at the World Games, which begin Sunday at historic Legion Field in Birmingham. Flag football is one of 33 sports in the program of the Olympic-style multisport event after it was admitted by the International World Games Association in 2020.

“We are thrilled that flag football is part of the official sporting program of the World Games for the first time,” said IFAF President Pierre Trochet in a statement. “This is a milestone in the development of the sport and a fantastic opportunity to showcase flag as a world-class international sport.”

The World Games returns to the United States for the first time since 1981. The United States men’s and women’s teams both pre-qualified for the tournament by winning gold at the 2021 IFAF Flag World Championships, held in Jerusalem last December. A record number of 39 national teams from four continents competed. The remaining 14 teams earned their place through the IFAF international qualification process.

Austria, France, Italy, Mexico and Panama also qualified men’s and women’s teams. Denmark and Germany provide the remaining men’s teams. Brazil and Japan provide the other two women’s teams.

“It’s not something we dominate because it’s football, the national pastime in America,” said Vincent. “You watch these young ladies and men play in other countries. They come to play. It’s a transitional sport. It’s a cross-functional sport of agility. It is a fast-paced game played in space. You don’t have to play it for years. You can develop. You can transfer the skills you’ve learned in soccer, lacrosse or cricket to flag football.”