A few weeks ago, the American Flag Football Championships were held in the USA with teams from North and South America. As befits their status, the two US teams took the titles. The women were able to avenge their loss to Mexico at last year's World Games, while the men thus stand at an overall record of roughly 58 wins and 1 loss (sorry, had to do that) since 2008.
While spectator interest remains low, organizers have managed to garner a lot of social media attention with the help of IFAF and the NFL. Especially since the effort to make flag football an Olympic sport, the NFL seems to be "all-in" when it comes to flag football. But is it really? The next few weeks will show whether it is as supportive of the European Championships as it is of the American ones. In the spirit of its motto "grow the game," which also applies internationally, that would be expected. I have my doubts about that, right now the growth of flag football in the US is seemingly exponential, while in much of Europe it is slow. In the last 12 months alone in the U.S., the NFL Pro Bowl has been changed to a flag football competition, flag football is on its way to becoming an officially recognized women's college sport, and the AFFL (American Flag Football League) has announced that it will be organized as a professional sport for the first time ever in 2024.
In Europe, however, things are a bit different. In just under 3 weeks, the 2023 European Flag Football Championships will be held in Limerick, Ireland. This has been known for quite some time, no other information is available yet. In general, there is little overarching structure apparent in European flag football. Also the media work leaves a lot to be desired, which is just shown by the example of the European Championships. 3 weeks before the start of the Championships, there is no information about the event on the internet. After my research, I can at least officially confirm that the European Championships will indeed take place in Ireland. The president of the Irish Football Association Aidan Maguire has been pointing out for weeks that IFAF will publish more information "soon". My inquiries to IFAF in this regard remained unanswered. How many teams are participating? Which teams? What is the format and schedule? Will matches be broadcast on the internet? Many questions, no answers. Supposedly 20 nations have registered for the men's competition, which would be a sensational record. There might be four groups of five teams each. The top two of each group should then qualify for the knockout round. No official information, just pure speculation from my part.
This is not the first time that the European Flag Football Championships take place on the island of Ireland, after Northern Ireland was hosting this event in 2009. A tournament where I was honored to debut in the Austrian national team. This year, the participating teams will not only be competing for the European Championship title, but also for qualification for the 2024 World Championships in Finland, which is set to become the biggest World Championships ever. How many European teams will qualify? This is the next unanswered question. My guess is eight teams, but again, just speculation.
In recent weeks I have had a few conversations with representatives from what I consider to be the top 8 nations in Europe: Denmark, Germany, France, Great Britain, Israel, Italy, Austria and Switzerland. All agree on one thing: Everyone assumes that flag football will get a decent boost if the International Olympic Committee makes a positive decision regarding the inclusion of the sport in the program of the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles in the fall. Whether this is really the case remains to be seen, but I believe that it will by no means be a foregone conclusion. My rough prediction for this eventuality is that the quality of play will increase in Europe in the next few years, because flag football being an Olympic sport will mean that more and more tackle players will get a taste for flag football. For the grassroots sport, I don't expect a big change before 2028. Only during the Olympic Games will the inevitable increase in media presence lead to more attention, which clubs will surely use to recruit new players. So, I don't expect any really big impact on European flag football for another 10 years at the earliest. The only possibility I see for a shorter time horizon in this respect is if the American hype spills over to Europe.
But it's still a few months before the International Olympic Committee makes its decision. Until then I devote myself to reporting on the European Championships and the development of the sport in the top 8 nations. Shortly before the European Championships I will publish my Power Rankings as I did before the World Games last year, after that I will report about the good, the bad and the ugly (hopefully nothing) of the European Championships. In the following weeks I will publish an analysis of the European flag football landscape with detailed information about the individual league formats, the general development and especially the youth development in the respective countries. As soon as the International Olympic Committee has made a decision, I will of course comment on it immediately and last but not least, my book "Quarterback" will be published in English towards the end of the year.