Organizers for the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics announced earlier this year a desire to add a number of new sports to its edition of the Games.
Recent IOC reforms allow Olympic hosts to propose adding sports solely for their edition of the Games.
In October the IOC Executive Board reviewed the proposal and ratified the five sports which includes flag football.
“We weren’t surprised,” said Joey Swarbrick, Interim Director, Sport with Football Canada, adding there has been a lot of work put in over the past year by the International Federation of American Football (IFAF) to move the sport into a position of acceptance.
Swarbrick said flag football is a great fit for the Olympics.
“It’s inclusive. Anyone can play. There’s a lot less barriers to entry,” he said.
Barriers can include the cost of equipment for full tackle football, the need for more players, coaches and volunteers to field a team, and concerns over possible injury with the full contact game.
“Some see it as a safer game. That definitely helps us grow it at younger ages,” said Swarbrick, who added “but it’s just as robust in the senior divisions.”
In terms of the senior game in Canada a team out of Saskatoon – the Gamecocks -- topped the men’s side defeating a team from Quebec.
The flag game is played five-on-five with a roster of only 12 on a 50X40 yard field.
Former University of Saskatchewan Huskie quarterback Mason Nyhus was one of the five leading the Saskatoon team to the national title.
Nyhus said the Huskies coach Scott Flory wanted Nyhus to throw in the off season.
“Saskatoon has a great flag football league,” said Nyhus, adding there are “three different teams from the Huskies.”
Nyhus said he went into the flag game sort of expecting he and his college mates would roll. It was not the immediate case.
“It (flag) is a very nuanced game, with very nuanced strategy,” he said, adding they really had to learn the finer details of the rules “to get the best out of the five-on-five game.”
For example, in Canada you have three downs to get to mid-field and three for a score after that.
No form of gridiron football has ever been an Olympic medal sport. Football was a demonstration sport at the 1932 LA Olympics. One game was played between college players from Yale, Harvard, and Princeton versus Cal, Stanford, and USC.
Nyhus said after the Olympic announcement participating in Los Angeles was something he started to think about.
“Obviously that would be awesome,” he said, adding there are certainly some great flag football quarterbacks in Canada, but he always has had a self confidence that he believes he should be in the mix.
Overall in Canada the game is growing dramatically.
“Some would say Saskatchewan leads the charge,” offered Swarbrick, adding numbers in the province are really taking off.
The other powerhouse province is Quebec where the sport is even played in high schools.
The game internationally has about 100 countries playing, said Swarbrick.
“It’s a lot more popular than I think a lot of people realize,” he said.
The next world championship will be held in Finland in 2024, and China after that, events Swarbrick said will likely become trial runs for how the Olympic event will be staged and how teams qualify, with details still to be worked out.
A Football Canada release notes Canada has had varying degrees of success at the global level in the flag game. The men’s team last won a world championship in 2008 while the women’s team last won gold in 2014.
Nyhus said Finland next August is certainly the Saskatoon team’s focus now.
“We feel very confident with this team,” he said, adding they will be finalizing the roster with current players and some additions from across the country ahead of the Finnish event.