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A football Dream Team? Maybe at the 2028 Olympics. | CBC Sports

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This Sunday in Orlando, Fla., the NFL’s annual Pro Bowl festivities will culminate with a 7-on-7 flag football game featuring many of the league’s best players. The NFL switched its annual all-star game to a flag format last year, but Sunday’s will be the first since flag football officially became an Olympic sport.

Flag football won’t be played at this summer’s Games in Paris. Its Olympic debut comes in 2028 in Los Angeles, where local organizers asked the International Olympic Committee to add it to the program along with cricket, lacrosse, squash and baseball/softball. The IOC officially approved all of those choices in October.

How long flag football will remain an Olympic sport is questionable. Each host city can propose a handful of sports to supplement the permanent ones on the program, typically adding some local flavour. The 2032 Summer Olympics are in Australia, which has produced a few NFL players (mostly punters) but is not exactly a gridiron hotbed. So flag football could be a one-and-done.

But not if the NFL has its way. The world’s richest sports league lobbied hard for the Olympics to add flag football, the only version of the game that is viable for international competition. Like any multi-billion-dollar business, the NFL is looking for ways to reach new customers beyond its domestic base, and it seems to view flag football as a great way to do that. Compared to the traditional 11-on-11 tackle game, flag has a low barrier of entry, requiring little equipment, less space and far fewer players. And, of course, it’s much less likely to cause debilitating injuries.

Another key difference: many more women play flag football than tackle. For the NFL, this means an opportunity to create additional football fans from the half of the population that may have felt sidelined from the sport. It’s big for the IOC too, which in recent years has aggressively pursued gender parity in the Olympics. 

WATCH l Women’s flag football players in Manitoba dream of competing at highest level:

Female flag footballers having fun, dream of competing at highest level

Manitoba flag football players talk about the growth of the game and the possibility of one day competing in the sport at the Olympic level.

A test run for the viability of flag football as an Olympic sport was conducted at the 2022 World Games in Birmingham, Ala. Both a men’s and a women’s tournament were held, with eight teams in each and 10 different countries represented. As expected, the U.S. won gold in the men’s event. But the American women got trounced in their final by Mexico, which may have helped convince L.A. organizers and the IOC that flag football is enough of a global game to work in the Olympics.

Now that flag football is officially coming to the Summer Games, the obvious question is whether we’ll see NFL players in the men’s event four years from now in Los Angeles. The league is supportive, saying in October that it will work with the players’ union on allowing active and former players to participate.

Several NFL stars have expressed interest in becoming Olympians, including reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes and electric Miami Dolphins receiver Tyreek Hill, one of the most enthusiastic competitors in last year’s Pro Bowl flag game. Philadelphia Eagles receiver A.J. Brown and Dallas Cowboys pass rusher Micah Parsons, who joined Hill in being voted to this season’s All-Pro team, have thrown their hats in the ring too. Minnesota Vikings star receiver Justin Jefferson, who stars in a commercial for flag football that airs regularly during NFL games, seems like another possibility.

To answer the inevitable question, yes, Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce has also said he’d like to play. But he’ll be 38 by the time the 2028 Games roll around, and Taylor Swift’s boyfriend seems to already be planning his post-football life.

Like the vast majority of NFL players, all of these stars are American. So prepare for a possible football Dream Team in L.A. in 2028.


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