TDEU Blog: American Football As An Olympic Sport?

American football was a demonstration sport at the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. On the evening of August 8, 1932, seniors from three Western universities (Cal, Stanford, and USC) were matched against those from the East Coast's "Big Three" (Harvard, Yale, and Princeton). In front of 60,000 spectators at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the West team won by a score of 7-6. All-American Gaius "Gus" Shaver from USC was the captain of the West team and the game's leading rusher with 145 yards on 16 attempts. 

The football game at the 1932 Summer Olympics, combined with a similar demonstration game at 1933 World's Fair, led to the College All-Star Game which was an important factor in the growth of professional football in the United States. The game was originally proposed by organizers as an "intersectional" match-up between the defendingnational champions, University of Southern California, on the West Coast and East Coast stalwarts, Yale University.

After the game, the Los Angeles Times wrote:
It remained for a spectacle listed on the program as 'American Football' to provide the Tenth Olympiad with its greatest thrill to date. Chances are the game will become an international pastime before the memory of this night game dies away”

However, American football has yet to be accepted by the International Olympic Committee as an official Olympic sport. Among the various problems the IFAF has to solve in order to be accepted by the IOC are building a competitive women's division, expanding the sport into Africa, and overcoming the current worldwide competitive imbalance that is in favor of American teams.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell isn’t satisfied with just running the most popular sport in the United States. He wants to see American football grow abroad until it reaches the point where it becomes an Olympic sport.

“Absolutely. We’re already taking steps to gain that IOC recognition. We have, I think, 64 countries that are playing American football now, and that’s one of the requirements. That’s been growing dramatically — I think it was 40 just five years ago,” Goodell said.

Goodell said he doesn’t have a specific timetable for when that could happen, but he does hope the IOC continues to keep an eye on the growth of the sport internationally. He noted specifically that the NFL has been successful with its annual game in London, and that it won’t be long before the league has two games a year in London — and after that, maybe eight a year.

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? 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. 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.

Nikola Davidovic with help of
Wikipedia, Google,