It’s been three months since Gabby Douglas became America’s sweetheart and Michael Phelps swam his last race. The Summer Olympics are over for another year and it will be four years until we see the Olympic flame once again.
In Rio de Janeiro in 2016, the sports of golf and rugby sevens will be added to the competition program. It is expected that 30 countries will be represented in the men’s and women’s golf competition, a 72-hole individual stroke play contest, while both sexes will compete in the modified rugby tournament, a seven-on-seven format played in seven minute halves.
The addition of these two sports and the continued exclusion of popular sports such as baseball and softball has raised questions, particularly “when, if ever, will American Football be included in the Olympics?”
The closest American Football ever came to being included in the Olympic format was in 1932 when it was used as a demonstration sport at the Los Angeles Games. Athletes from the University of California Berkeley, Stanford and USC were matched against those from Harvard, Yale and Princeton in a one-off game watched by 60,000 spectators at the LA Memorial Coliseum. While the game was an important factor in the growth of pro football in the US, it did nothing to influence the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decision makers who since then, have continued to reject the sport’s inclusion at the Games.
So will it ever be included and even if it is, could it ever be successful? One of the primary reasons preventing its inclusion at the Olympic Games is participation. Quite simply, not enough countries are good at, or even play, the sport. ‘Gridiron’, as it is commonly known as outside the US, was really only introduced internationally in the late 1970s, when semi-pro teams completed a five-game tour in Europe. And while it is currently played in 50 countries around the world, it is still perceived by most as an ‘American’ sport.
Let’s compare American Football to basketball, which both originated in North America:
The numbers speak for themselves. Yes, American Football may have been created first and the sports’ first professional games may have been played within only four years of each other, but it’s clear that American Football has struggled to assert any kind of worldwide dominance. And it’s this lack of international acceptance and understanding that sees it fail to gain Olympic recognition year after year.
Other reasons for its ongoing exclusion have been thrown around. One is the idea that the USA will completely dominate its competitors, making the game uninteresting and predicable. There’s also the fact that the IOC limits the number of competing athletes and coaches to 10,500 each Games. With each football team needing 11 players, and if you consider that you would need at least eight teams to make a worthy tournament, you’re looking at a minimum of 88 players. Add on substitutions, coaches and other staff, the number of participants would easily surpass that of an Olympic basketball, soccer or volleyball team. There’s also the idea that realistically, American Football is a man’s sport, effectively excluding women from competing. With the inclusion of women’s boxing in London, American Football be the only sport without a female format. Lastly, there’s the question of amateurism vs professionalism. Would the current pros play, would it be open to college players, or would the team be made up of ‘nobodies’? Depending on the time of year the Olympics are held, would it impede the September-February NFL competition?
What about those in the know? Four years ago Peyton Manning told reporters he would relish the opportunity to compete at the Olympic Games.
“There’s still one thing left for me to accomplish. That’s winning a gold medal.”
He’s not the only one pushing for the berth. NFL Commission Roger Goodell told ESPN’s Dan Patrick Show that American Football should “absolutely” be an Olympic sport, in part due what he believes is its growing popularity internationally.
“We’ve having a tremendous reaction [to the NFL games being played] in London…our regular season game over there [was] sold out again this year. We are seriously contemplating as early as 2012 playing two NFL games next season [in the UK]. It’s a response to the tremendous fan reaction and the growth of the game,” Goodell said.
“Our point is just to keep growing the game”.
Unfortunately for Manning and Goodell, American Football won’t be seen alongside the Olympic rings any time soon. The sport won’t be played in Rio de Janeiro and it isn’t one of the nine sports being considered for the venue-still-to-be-chosen 2020 Games.
For now, American Football’s international glory will be confined to the World Cup. The next tournament will be held in Sweden in 2015.