Everyone knows NFL, America’s professional football league, but more people are starting to hear about ‘flag football’, following recent Olympics-related discussion.
The modified version of gridiron (American football) has been gaining interest throughout the United States and slowly around the world; the safer, non-contact version of the sport. It’s essentially the touch footy version of gridiron, for those down under trying to visualise it.
In this modified version of gridiron, you don’t need to be built like an absolute monster, learn a playbook from cover to cover or intricately break down a defence.
It’s no surprise that with the United States hosting the Olympic Games for the first time in 32 years, they’re looking to introduce ‘the nations sport’ to the global stage. It’s a massive win for the NFL too, who will gain an enormous PR boost in the process.
Although it’s an interesting addition, flag football’s inclusion comes as a complete shock to many who have never heard of the sport.
So here’s everything you need to know about flag football, and why it’s set to become an Olympic sport.
What is flag football?
Put simply, flag football is a non-contact version of American football, with the traditional elements of touchdowns, passing, rushing and defending – only without the tackling component.
Each team has five players on the field at a time – a defensive and offensive team.
Differing from America’s supremely popular product, the NFL, flag football requires each player to wear ‘flags’ on both hips – essentially long tags that work in basically the same way as in Oztag.
This replaces the need for tackling; when a flag is removed from a player, they are deemed to have been ‘tackled’.
How do you play flag football?
Let’s start with the basics.
Flag football is a five-on-five game, consisting of two halves that vary from 15-25 minutes long depending on the level it’s being played at.
The main element of it is that there is no contact allowed, including tackling, diving, blocking or screening. Instead, players wear flags that hang off a velcro belt that need to be removed in order for there to be a ‘tackle’.
A touchdown is worth six points, where teams can then decide to go for either a 1-point conversion from 5-yard line or 2-point conversion from 10-yard line. A ‘safety’ – being trapped in your own end zone with the ball – is worth 2 points for the defending team.
Flag football promotes passing in its games, meaning the quarterback is limited in what they can do; they cannot run beyond the line of scrimmage, like we’ve seen become an important feature of the modern QB. They must pass forward and laterally; pitches aren’t allowed, only direct handoffs.
The offence begins on their 5-yard line at the start of each half and has four downs (plays) to cross the halfway line. If they do so, they have three downs to score a touchdown, but if they fail they can choose to punt (other team gets the ball on their 5-yard line) or take the risky option of going for a first down, that if unsuccessful, means the other team gets the ball on that exact spot.
Is flag football a popular sport?
It’s undoubtedly becoming more popular every year, with a growing and diverse participation; including with women and kids.
NFL Flag – the official program of the NFL – sells it as a sport that doesn’t require a certain build, skill set or prior experience to enjoy. Since 2015, participation from young kids under the age of 12 has increased by 38%, according to NFL Flag, with tackle football dropping by 29%.
In the United States, around 474,000 women between the ages of 6 to 17 played flag football in 2022 which is an incredible 63% increase from 2019.
Its popularity is surging so much that it has become a high school sport for girls in some states.
There’s no doubt that growing research and understanding around the short and longer term dangers of head injuries and concussions have made more and more people think twice about themselves and their children participating in regular gridiron.
So flag football is undoubtedly a great alternative that’s set to be more legitimised through becoming an official Olympic sport.
Why is flag football being added to the Olympic Games?
Along with a plethora of surprising additions to the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, flag football is joining the world’s most prestigious sporting event to bolster its popularity.
The five-on-five, non-contact event was finally given the nod after years of the NFL pushing to see it become an Olympic sport — definitely ulterior motives from the NFL who want to grow their game internationally with a few games already played in the UK this NFL season.
It seems the positive to adding something like flag football to the Olympics is its inclusivity with women playing it at increasingly higher rates.
For men, it has been a college sport for over a decade, but the challenge for flag football still lies in having other nations being on the same level as the United States. It’s safe to assume that it’s addition to Los Angeles 2028 Games will result in even more gold for the host nation.