American Football In Olympics: 1904 – Today & Beyond

With the success of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio, is is clear that the world is very excited about sports in general. From track events to badminton and boxing, some of the globe’s favorite games and pastimes were played on an international scale in Brazil. However, it has long been noted that America’s favorite sport does not feature in the games. Why is this, and could it change in the future?

Popularity of Football Nationally

One third of American sports fans say football is their favorite spectator sport. The annual Super Bowl contest is the most watched sports event on television, pulling in a staggering 111.9 million viewers this year. Forbes estimates that the total value of all NFL franchises is $62.9 billion, and 160 million American citizens say they are fans of the sport. That’s a whole lot of people who would love to see American football in the Olympic Games! When asked whether the game should appear in the Olympics, opinion is completely divided among the public. 59% say it should – just a little over half of the total.


International Support For American Football

There are 80 different countries across the world which have their own professional or semi-professional American football leagues. However, the sport is less popular internationally. In a list of 25 top games worldwide, as chosen by fans, American football comes in at twelfth place. Fans of the sport from here and across the world agree on one thing – internationally, there is very little competition and the superior American sides always dominate. This doesn’t always work in the game’s favor. When it comes to choosing sports for international contests or picking up big numbers of fans overseas, American football is often overlooked.

American Football In The Olympics

American football was first played back in 1869, between college teams who adapted the rules of soccer and rugby to create a new contact game. In 1880, the rules as we know them today first came into effect. During the sport’s early days, it gained some national interest and picked up plenty of fans. As a result, discussions began to include the sport in the Olympic schedule.

In 1904, college football featured in the Olympics for the first time as part of the demonstration program in St Louis. In 1932, it returned for a full East Vs West college match-up in the Los Angeles’ Games. In front of a crowd of 60,000 supporters, the West side stretched a 7-6 score line beyond the final whistle and claimed victory. No medals were won as the game was purely a showcase, but it demonstrated a strong appeal for American football as an Olympic sport.


Why Is It Not An Olympic Sport Today?

Despite appearing twice as a demonstration event, there has never been a serious move to include the game in the full Olympic schedule. The International Federation of American Football was established in 1998 to spread the game’s influence. One of their key agendas was to get American football onto the Olympic roster, and since they were established they have submitted frequent requests for inclusion. So far, each request has been denied – but the organization remains determined to win the battle eventually.

The main reason football is kept from the Olympic schedule is its lack of international reach. Other countries do have their own leagues, but the popularity and financing of such teams is less than ours, and standards of play are usually less as a result. American football just isn’t very competitive outside of the US – and that makes it unappealing as an Olympic sport, unless you happen to be from the States!

However, other nations are getting pretty good at the game themselves. The US lost an international football match for the first time back in 2012, against North American neighbors Canada. Mexico and Japan are also catching up fast, fielding strong teams with real potential. If demand for the game grows, perhaps there could be a greater call for international contests and participation across existing games events.


The Future of Olympic Football: Could The Sport Make The 2025 Games?

The United States Olympic Committee has accepted that American football deserves a place among its recognized sports. In 2015, the game was added to the official list. However, national acceptance does not mean that the sport will make it to the international games: it just gives the USOC more opportunity to promote football alongside other games. More significantly, the International Olympic Committee granted provisional recognition to football back in 2014. Although it could be considered in 2024 and beyond, American football will not feature in the Tokyo 2020 Games.

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