Flag football
A game of flag football being played at the University of Texas at Austin
Highest governing body
First played
Characteristics
ContactLimited
Team membersTwo teams of 4-10
Type
EquipmentBall, flag
VenueFootball field
Presence
Country or regionWorldwide
OlympicTo be first included in 2028
ParalympicTo be first included in 2028
World Games2022

Flag football is a variant of American football where, instead of tackling players to the ground, the defensive team must remove a flag or flag belt from the ball carrier ("deflagging") to end a down. The sport has a strong amateur following with several national and international competitions each year sponsored by various associations but is most popularly played in America where it was invented. A flag variant of Canadian football also exists.

In flag football, contact is limited between players. The international governing body for the sport is the International Federation of American Football (IFAF). In 2022, flag football was shortlisted as a proposed discretionary event for the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, and subsequently accepted on October 16, 2023, for inclusion.

History

The best available records to date point to the early 1940s during World War II as the sport's starting point.[1][2] The game began as a recreational sport created for American military personnel to help them stay fit but was designed in a way that would help prevent them from becoming injured during wartime. At the time it was called "Touch and Tail football", which then became "flag football" after the war ended.[3]

The first known recorded history of flag football can be traced to Fort Meade, Maryland, USA, which is now generally accepted as the sport's birthplace. The first national flag football organization, the National Touch Football League, was formed in the 1960s in St. Louis, Missouri. Since 1971, the league has had a national championship game.[4]

Arizona teachers Porter Wilson and Norman Adams invented flag-a-tag belts and flags[5][6][7] which are the template for the flags used in the game today.

Basic rules

The specific rules of flag football vary widely by league, though all share in common their replication of the rules of traditional American football with tackling replaced by flag-pulling.

Traditional American football rules are often eliminated or modified to reflect the more recreational nature of the game, the desire to avoid physical contact and injury, and the generally smaller number of participating players per side.

Variations

Flag football is sometimes played on sand.

Chiefly, because there is no dominant sanctioning organization for the sport, the game has mutated into many variations: 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, and 4 players on each side; coed or single-gender; with kicking and punting and with point-after conversions (including some with 1, 2, and 3 point tries) or without; and field sizes that vary from full Canadian Football League (CFL) size, National Football League (NFL) size (120 yards long by 5313 yards wide), to fields a third that size.

An important distinction is whether linemen are allowed to catch passes ("Eligible Linemen") or, as in the NFL / CFL, are not allowed to do so ("Ineligible Linemen"). Flag (and touch) football may also be divided into "contact" or "non-contact", depending on whether or not blocking is allowed; if allowed, blocking is usually restricted to the chest.[8]

The ability or inability of the quarterback to advance the ball past the line of scrimmage (LOS) by running is another rule subject to variation by the league.

The sport is also played on surfaces other than a traditional grass football field, including on sand beaches; beach flag football has previously featured as a discipline at the Asian Beach Games.[9]

IFAF Flag Football World Championship

Main article: IFAF Flag Football World Championship

The IFAF Flag Football World Championship is normally conducted every two years. IFAF stands for International Federation of American Football.

IFAF Flag Football World Championship 2021

The International Federation of American Football (IFAF) had selected Israel to host the Flag Football World Championships for 2021 IFAF Flag Football World Championship with World Games places up for grabs. The Kraft Family Sports Campus in Jerusalem was originally scheduled to stage the men's and women's events, however, due to expected high winds the games were played at Teddy Stadium.

An IFAF event record of 39 men's and women's teams combined, spanning 22 countries, competed at the tournament in Israel. Normally conducted every two years, Denmark was scheduled to host the 2020 edition only for it to be canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The United States retained their men's and women's titles at the International Federation of American Football (IFAF) World Flag Football Championships in Jerusalem. The US fought back in both finals, against Mexico to successfully defend their world crowns.

We love the game of American football and are so proud to see the sport’s popularity continue to grow internationally in its various forms, including flag football...[10]

— Robert Kraft, New England Patriots owner and Kraft Group chairman and CEO, International Federation of American Football News, March 15, 2021

Women's gold

Against Mexico in the women's gold-medal match, the Americans scored 12 unanswered points in the second period to seal a 31–21 victory. In the semi-finals, the US beat Austria 33–6, and Mexico beat Brazil 47–6 to reach the final.

I'm extremely proud of our women coming together...They were dedicated to the mission at hand, and they succeeded.

— US head coach, Chris Lankford

Men's gold

The US Men's team rallied from behind against Mexico to a 44–41 victory and retain their world title. A 35–6 win over Panama sent the US through to the final, and Mexico beat Italy 36–35 to join them in the tournament's showpiece contest.[11]

Mexico played extremely well, but through the entire process, our team made a statement...They represented their country, the program, themselves, and their families well and I’m proud of them.

— US head coach, Bryan Garcia

Other nations

Austria Austria defeated Brazil 26–13 to win the women's bronze medal.

Panama Panama edged out Italy 45–40 in the men's third-place playoff.

Medal table

RankNationGoldSilverBronzeTotal
1 United States5106
2 Austria3104
3 France1034
4 Canada1001
5 Denmark0426
6 Mexico0213
7 Germany0202
8 Italy0022
9 Panama0011
 Thailand0011
Totals (10 entries)10101030

Olympics

Main article: Flag football at the Summer Olympics

In July 2022, the National Football League (NFL) and the IFAF partnered on a bid for flag football to be included as an optional event during the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. The NFL had sponsored the inclusion of flag football as an invitational event during that month's 2022 World Games—a multi-sport event featuring sports and disciplines not currently contested at the Olympics—in Birmingham, Alabama. The men's tournament was won by the United States, and the women's tournament by Mexico.[12][13] The NFL's executive VP of football operations Troy Vincent stated that the sport was "the future of American football", as it was inclusive and had fewer barriers to access.[14]

In August 2022, flag football was shortlisted as one of nine sports advancing to the next phase of the bid process.[15] On October 9, 2023, the LA organizing committee officially proposed the inclusion of flag football as an event.[16][17][18][19] On October 16, 2023, flag football received approval at the 141st IOC Session of the International Olympic Committee for inclusion in the 2028 Summer Olympics to be held in Los Angeles.[20]

World Games

Main article: Flag football at the 2022 World Games

The 2022 World Games marked the 40th anniversary of the event, which took place from July 7–17, 2022. Hosted at Birmingham's historic Legion Field, Flag Football featured eight men's teams and eight women's teams from around the world. In 2021 the World Games uploaded a beginner's guide to World Games Flag Football.[21]

As the reigning world champions,[22] the United States men's and women's teams both pre-qualified for the 2022 World Games. The remaining seven teams were selected through the IFAF qualifying process[13]

North America

Children playing the sport in Mexico

USA Football

USA Football is the governing body of American football in the United States, the sole US member of the International Federation of American Football,[23] and a recognized sports organization of the US Olympic & Paralympic Committee.[24] Its non-profit mission includes designing and delivering premier educational, development, and competitive programs for American football, including tackle and flag football. USA Football is the only organization that selects and organizes the U.S. national team (men's and women's) in federation-sanctioned international competition.[25]

USA Flag

USA Flag currently operates the largest National Championships flag football tournament in the United States, along with a club World Championships every January in Florida that eclipsed over 980 teams this past January 2023, the largest single weekend flag football tournament ever recorded. The USA Flag has grown exponentially each year.

NFL Pro Bowl Flag

For the 2023 Pro Bowl, the National Football League showcased its premier Pro Bowl players and the best of NFL Flag teams from around the country with their skills in a week-long celebration, "The Pro Bowl Games," featuring a new format spotlighting Flag Football.

NFL Flag

The National Football League and its teams have promoted and sponsored flag football leagues in the United States as a youth sport under the branding NFL Flag; in 2020, Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson became a chairman and co-owner of NFL Flag, as part of efforts by the NFL to expand its promotion of the sport into other territories. The program has also placed a particular focus on expanding women's flag football, due to gridiron football having predominantly been played by men.[26][27]

American Flag Football League

Main article: American Flag Football League

The American Flag Football League (AFFL) is a flag football organization that offers youth and women’s competition, and in 2023, a men’s professional division.[citation needed]

Canadian Flag Football League

Main articles: Canadian Flag Football League and Football Canada

The Canadian Flag Football League (CFFL) was established in 2019 and runs Canada's CFFL National Championship.[28] The league is affiliated with Football Canada, the national governing body for football in Canada and its variants. The winners of the CFFL National Championship also gain the opportunity to represent Canada in international competition.

The league's major objective is to help integrate existing adult flag leagues on a nationwide basis. Depending on the region, teams compete in their Regional Championships, either Eastern, Western, or Central. The top two teams from each division advance to the national championship.

There are three divisions for the CFFL: male, female, and mixed.

Flag Football National Championships

The Canadian Flag Football National Championships (FFNC) was established in 2007 to provide athletes with the opportunity to develop their skills and compete in national team competitions and eventually the Canadian Flag Football League (CFFL) which was established in 2019. Since its inception, the format of the championship has undergone several changes.[29]

In 2011, in response to the growth of flag football and the development of Football Canada's Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD) model, the under-15 co-ed division was replaced by separate boys and girls under-16 divisions. These divisions supplemented the pre-existing under-18 divisions that were added in 2010.

By 2013, the championship featured three divisions: male and female under-16 divisions and a female under-18 division.

In 2017, with the introduction of the Under-16 Regional Flag Challenge, the championship shifted to an under-18 format with male and female divisions.

Varsity sport

United States

In May 2020, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), in partnership with the NFL, announced the addition of flag football as a varsity sport for female student-athletes.[30] The NAIA became the first collegiate governing body to sanction the sport at the varsity level. NAIA women's flag football began during the 2020–21 season as an emerging sport with at least 15 teams, and the NAIA and NFL also expected an upgrade of the sport to an invitational level sport by 2022 with at least 25 teams.[31]

In June 2023, the Atlantic East Conference of NCAA Division III announced five of its seven member institutions would independently sponsor women's flag football in the spring of 2025, with support from the NFL and the Philadelphia Eagles.[32]

International

See also: International Woman's Flag Football Association, International Federation of American Football, and British American Football Association

Player at the point of taking other player's flag at a game at Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, Mexico City

International Woman's Flag Football Association

The International Woman's Flag Football Association, IWFFA, hosts 8-on-8 flag football tournaments and flag football training across the world with participants from the United States, Canada, Mexico, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Scotland and several other nations. The organization is the largest for women and girls in the sport. The most active tournament is held each February in Key West, Florida, called the Kelly McGillis Classic[33] where over 90 women and girls teams participate in 8-on-8, semi-blocking contact flag football. There are no restrictions for girls and women to play.

International Federation of American Football

The International Federation of American Football (IFAF) organizes the IFAF Flag Football World Championship every two years since 2002.

International Flag Football Festival

The International Flag Football Festival (IFFF) organizes the World Cup of Flag Football featuring teams from the United States, Mexico and several other nations.

United Kingdom

Flag football competition in the United Kingdom is, mostly, 5-a-side. There are two main organizations: The adult-only Outlaw Flag League,[34] which run Tournaments in two conferences, the Exile conference and the Bandit conference, from March to October, culminating in playoff and championships. Secondly, the NFFL, The National Flag Football League, organized by The British American Football Association (BAFA). At a senior level, there are sixty teams divided into two leagues. NFL Division One: Highlands, North A, North B, Midlands, South East, and South West[35] and The Premiership: Highlands, North, South East, and South West, with the top teams qualifying for playoffs at the end of the season. BAFA also runs The Youth Flag Football League (YFFL)[36] and organizes teams competing at under 17, under 14, and under 11.[37][38] Flag football games in the UK are played with five players on each side with no contact, and are officiated according to the IFAF flag football rules with a few minor variations.[39] The U17s and U14s, and, for the 2023 season U11s, compete in the National Youth Flag Football League, which runs from April to August, with teams playing in Local and regional tournaments to qualify for National Finals Day and ultimately be crowned National Champions.

BAFA National Flag finals

[40]

Under 14s
2021 South Coast Spitfires 44 20 Leicester Huntsmen
2022 Houghton Bears 34 27 Leicester Huntsmen
Under 17s
2021 South Coast Spitfires 20 18 Coventry Cougars
2022 Nuneaton Jaguars 19 8 Northants Titans
Mixed Adult
2022 London Smoke 42 33 Cardiff Hurricane
Adult Division 1
2022 Reading Devils 52 27 Swansea Hammerheads
2021 Final Standings
U14s U17s
1. South Coast Spitfires 1. South Coast Spitfires
2. Leicester Huntsmen 2. Coventry Cougars
3. Chorley Buccaneers Cutlasses 3. Waveney Wolves
4. London Blitz 4. South London Renegades
5. Nuneaton Jaguars 5. London Blitz
6. Solent Red Storm 6. Brighton & Hove Scorpions
7. Houghton Bears
8. Chorley Buccaneers Blades

See also

References

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  3. ^ "6 Things You Didn't Know About Flag Football". i9sports.com. i9sports.com. Retrieved January 8, 2022.
  4. ^ "When did flag football start in the United States?". idswater.com. July 5, 2020. Retrieved April 29, 2022.
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  13. ^ a b "NFL partners with The World Games to add flag football in 2022". NFL.com. Retrieved December 30, 2020.
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  16. ^ "Cricket recommended for 2028 LA Olympics spot". BBC Sport. Retrieved October 9, 2023.
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  33. ^ Kelly McGillis Classic
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