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American football takes small step toward Olympics

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Could American football one day find itself in the Olympic games? Maybe. Today, the International Federation of American Football took the first small step to making that happen.

Clive Rose

Could we one day be watching NFL players in the Olympics? Probably not. But, we could see the sport they play, or a modification of it at least, make it to the world stage. With 64-member nations, the International Federation of American Football (IFAF) is working on that goal, and received good news today.

The IFAF released a press release today announcing provisional recognition by the International Olympic Committee. "IFAF is proud to receive this recognition and join the Olympic family," IFAF President Tommy Wiking said of the recognition. "The enduring ideals of sport that comprise the Olympic Charter reside in our game's timeless values and in the spirit of the millions who love to play it."

The IFAF serves as the international governing body for American Football, covering tackle, flag, and beach versions of the game, for both men and women. The IFAF has been holding the IFAF World Cchampionship since 1999, playing the tournament every four years. The United States was not permitted to take part in the first two tournaments, with Japan winning both of those iterations (1999, 2003). With a restriction allowing only players who had completed college, but never played professionally, in place before the 2007 tournament, the USA were allowed to enter, winning that year, then repeating in 2011. The 2011 final featured the United States against Canada, the first year for the US's neighbor. The next tournament is scheduled for 2015 in Sweden.

There are also Women's World Championships, U-19 World Championships, and Flag Football World Championships.

Provisional recognition of the IFAF does not put American football on the fast track to the Olympics, but it is the first step in attempting to get there. The IFAF will now work to internationalize the game, working to have the 64-member countries establish leagues and trying to build the game around the world. With the IFAF provisionally recognized, they can now begin the process of petitioning for American Football to be included in the Olympic Games, a process that will take years.

The game that appears in every Sunday in the NFL will most likely not be the same game that could eventually appear in the Olympics. During the 2016 Summer Olympics, rugby sevens will make their debut, a modification of rugby in which only seven players per side play, rather than the normal 15. A similar modification could be considered for American football for Olympic consideration.

American football is still a long way from making it to the Olympics, but at least they are making headway to bringing the game to the world stage.