Inclusion in Olympics could be key to international growth of NFL

Every four years, Americans become enthralled with sports we routinely ignore during the two-week respite from reality known as the Olympics. But as the Winter and Summer Games continuously expand to include niche sports with cult followings at best, the ongoing omission of the greatest sport on the planet becomes more glaring.

Football. American football. The real football.

The Olympics won’t be complete until the roster of events includes football. More importantly, football won’t be able to completely saturate the world’s consciousness until the Olympics embrace it.

As crazy as it sounds (my editor used that same phrase when green-lighting this column), football isn’t as far away from becoming an Olympic sport as the casual observer might think. Reached for comment regarding the league’s position on the matter, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello shared with me the comments of Tommy Wiking, president of the International Federation of American Football.

"One of the key objectives of IFAF is to achieve International Olympic Committee recognition and we plan to make a formal application to the IOC in 2011," Wiking said recently at Le Deux Magots in Paris.

"IOC recognition would be the first step towards proposing American football as an Olympic participation sport, but more immediately would benefit the more than 50 countries that are members of IFAF. Such recognition would open doors to funding, provide a route into many school curriculums and would further raise the profile of our sport internationally, which in turn would lead to growth."

The kicker? (Pun intended, weak as it may be.)  Sports that want to be added to the Olympic program must propose both male and female participation. (This does not apply to established Olympic sports like boxing.)  For American football to gain IOC recognition, it has to demonstrate that it’s heading in the right direction regarding female participation. "IFAF has already increased the female presence within the game by mandating that women become more involved at board and committee level and by initiating the IFAF Women’s World Championship that will be played in Sweden this summer," Wiking said.

There’s another hurdle. To gain recognition, the sport must be played on every continent. Currently, American football has not yet infiltrated Africa. But efforts are being made to address that issue and all other potential obstacles, with the long-term goal being acceptance of American football as an Olympic sport.

The expanded presence of the NFL in other countries can only help the efforts to push American football to a level that makes it an attractive option for the Summer Games. Actual inclusion of football in the Olympics could be the tipping point toward widespread acceptance of football on a global basis.

To help guard against the inevitable, as the Nard Dog would put it, "Cornell-Hofstra slaughter" of every team that faces the USA, NFL players shouldn’t be loaned to the Olympic effort — at least not until other countries could stay within 100 points of the best American football players in the world. At some point, however, introduction of a football "Dream Team" could provide the same catalyst for international growth of the sport as the original "Dream Team" did for basketball in 1992.

Other practical challenges remain. Currently, football players play one game per week; how could a full tournament be squeezed into only 14 days? But much of the action would likely be deferred to qualification rounds, with perhaps only the final eight teams heading to the Olympics, for a maximum output of three games in two weeks.

These and other issues could be resolved if/when American football makes it into the Olympics, where it belongs.

If the NFL is serious about making American football a truly global phenomenon, the 100-year plan surely includes the Olympics. And if the Olympics hope to continue to be regarded as a complete athletic competition, its 100-year plan surely includes American football, too.

Mike Florio writes and edits ProFootballTalk.com and is a regular contributor to Sporting News. Check out PFT for up-to-the minute NFL news.

Every four years, Americans become enthralled with sports we routinely ignore during the two-week respite from reality known as the Olympics. But as the Winter and Summer Games continuously expand to include niche sports with cult followings at best, the ongoing omission of the greatest sport on the planet becomes more glaring.

Football. American football. The real football.

The Olympics won’t be complete until the roster of events includes football. More importantly, football won’t be able to completely saturate the world’s consciousness until the Olympics embrace it.

As crazy as it sounds (my editor used that same phrase when green-lighting this column), football isn’t as far away from becoming an Olympic sport as the casual observer might think. Reached for comment regarding the league’s position on the matter, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello shared with me the comments of Tommy Wiking, president of the International Federation of American Football.

"One of the key objectives of IFAF is to achieve International Olympic Committee recognition and we plan to make a formal application to the IOC in 2011," Wiking said recently at Le Deux Magots in Paris.

"IOC recognition would be the first step towards proposing American football as an Olympic participation sport, but more immediately would benefit the more than 50 countries that are members of IFAF. Such recognition would open doors to funding, provide a route into many school curriculums and would further raise the profile of our sport internationally, which in turn would lead to growth."

The kicker? (Pun intended, weak as it may be.)  Sports that want to be added to the Olympic program must propose both male and female participation. (This does not apply to established Olympic sports like boxing.)  For American football to gain IOC recognition, it has to demonstrate that it’s heading in the right direction regarding female participation. "IFAF has already increased the female presence within the game by mandating that women become more involved at board and committee level and by initiating the IFAF Women’s World Championship that will be played in Sweden this summer," Wiking said.

There’s another hurdle. To gain recognition, the sport must be played on every continent. Currently, American football has not yet infiltrated Africa. But efforts are being made to address that issue and all other potential obstacles, with the long-term goal being acceptance of American football as an Olympic sport.

The expanded presence of the NFL in other countries can only help the efforts to push American football to a level that makes it an attractive option for the Summer Games. Actual inclusion of football in the Olympics could be the tipping point toward widespread acceptance of football on a global basis.

To help guard against the inevitable, as the Nard Dog would put it, "Cornell-Hofstra slaughter" of every team that faces the USA, NFL players shouldn’t be loaned to the Olympic effort — at least not until other countries could stay within 100 points of the best American football players in the world. At some point, however, introduction of a football "Dream Team" could provide the same catalyst for international growth of the sport as the original "Dream Team" did for basketball in 1992.

Other practical challenges remain. Currently, football players play one game per week; how could a full tournament be squeezed into only 14 days? But much of the action would likely be deferred to qualification rounds, with perhaps only the final eight teams heading to the Olympics, for a maximum output of three games in two weeks.

These and other issues could be resolved if/when American football makes it into the Olympics, where it belongs.

If the NFL is serious about making American football a truly global phenomenon, the 100-year plan surely includes the Olympics. And if the Olympics hope to continue to be regarded as a complete athletic competition, its 100-year plan surely includes American football, too.

Mike Florio writes and edits ProFootballTalk.com and is a regular contributor to Sporting News. Check out PFT for up-to-the minute NFL news.

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