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NFL still pushing for Olympic flag football with a chance ahead

NFL football logo

CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 26: A detail view of a NFL logo is seen on the game ball in the field between two referees during a game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Baltimore Ravens on December 26, 2021, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, OH. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The NFL is still pushing for flag football to join the Olympic program. Though football hasn’t made significant public progress for inclusion in nine years, its best chance in many years may be on the horizon.

“If flag football becomes an Olympic sport, more countries will invest in playing that sport,” NFL International CEO Damani Leech said, according to CNBC, which builds on reports dating to at least last April about flag football’s push with the NFL’s backing.

The last significant step that football (in general, not specifically flag) took toward Olympic inclusion was in 2013. The International Olympic Committee provisionally recognized its international federation. IOC recognition does not equate to eventual Olympic inclusion, but it is a necessary early marker if a sport is to join the program down the line.

To get a sense of how far it must still go, football is still labeled as “provisional” on an IOC list of 35 international federations whose sports are not on the 2024 Olympic program. The other 34, many of which are not being considered for Olympic inclusion right now, do not have the “provisional” disclaimer for recognition. They include tug of war, life saving and korfball.

In 2015, IOC President Thomas Bach met with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell at the Super Bowl, though Goodell didn’t push for Olympic inclusion at the time.

An Olympic sport “must have a broad international representation,” Bach said then about football, though it’s not clear if he was considering the flag version. “This I cannot see in football. It’s a very American sport.”

The IOC added two sports on its own in the last 21 years with golf and rugby returning for the 2016 Rio Games. However, under rules instituted before the Tokyo Games, Olympic hosts have successfully proposed to the IOC adding sports solely for their edition of the Games.

Football was one of 26 sports that applied for a place in Tokyo. Organizers eventually chose five to propose to the IOC -- baseball-softball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing -- and all were accepted.

Organizers for the 2024 Paris Games already went through the process of proposing their new sports. Skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were approved again, and breaking will make its Olympic debut.

So football’s next chance, and perhaps its best in many years, if ever, is the 2028 Los Angeles Games. If any host is to propose adding football, the country where it was invented makes the most sense. Football was contested once at the Olympics, at the first Los Angeles Games in 1932, as a demonstration sport.

LA 2028 organizers have not announced the sport(s), if any, they plan to propose to the IOC for inclusion. Tokyo organizers announced their picks a little less than five years before their Games.

“As we look at additional sport recommendations, we will continue to focus on sports that are relevant to Los Angeles, provide an incredible fan experience and contribute to the success of the Games,” LA 2028 chair Casey Wasserman said in a December press release. “We want to build on tradition, while progressing the Olympic Games forward.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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