NFL pushes to grow flag football in Latin America and beyond

At a sinewy 5-foot-3, Andrea Castillo looks as if a football participant — one thing she as soon as was once rising up in Panama.

But it didn’t take lengthy to understand that “the beautiful game” wasn’t for her.

She was once 12, simply coming into secondary faculty, when she gave up fútbol for the fledging recreation of flag football. It proved to be a smart move for the now 18-year-old, who this summer time quarterbacked Panama to a bronze medal in the World Games in Birmingham, Ala.

“I think a lot about that,” she stated of the verdict to give up considered one of her nation’s hottest sports activities for person who had little greater than a cult following. “I’ve been growing with flag football. … I have had the opportunity to be in all these events and have all these achievements at a young age.”

The recreation has blossomed nearly as temporarily as Castillo’s occupation. And whilst the worldwide attraction of the National Football League has helped gas flag football’s upward thrust in Panama and in other places, about the one factor the 2 sports activities percentage is the form of the ball.

Flag football is in most cases performed with 5 folks on a facet on a box about two-thirds the dimensions of an NFL gridiron, which makes for a wide-open sport performed at a breakneck tempo. That additionally makes pace, agility and creativity extra essential than measurement or brute energy, a explanation why girls and women are flocking to the sport in large numbers.

The California Interscholastic Federation, which governs highschool sports activities in the state, is thinking about a suggestion to certify flag football as a varsity recreation. Six states have taken that step already, and a minimum of 20 others are exploring it.

The NFL could also be on board.

The Rams and Chargers are sponsoring a league that comes with 16 women’ flag football groups in Southern California, and greater than 10,000 women are taking part in in NFL-sponsored leagues across the nation. At the school stage, 18 National Assn. of Intercollegiate Athletics faculties in 10 states are taking part in girls’s flag football this season, as are a handful of colleges on the National Junior College Athletic Assn. stage.

With greater than part one million contributors and 1,640 lively leagues, in accordance to the NFL, flag football is likely one of the fastest-growing sports activities in the U.S.

Andrea Castillo celebrates after helping Panama win a bronze medal in flag football at the World Games 2022.

Andrea Castillo celebrates after serving to Panama win a bronze medal in flag football on the World Games 2022 in Birmingham, Ala., in July.

(Dustin Massey / World Games 2022)

“That’s the beauty of flag football. Everyone can play. It’s accessible and inclusive.”

— Andrea Castillo, Panama quarterback

“You can see the opportunity, and now to introduce the sport to high school girls, this is a generational impact that we’re having,” stated Jonathan Franklin, director of social justice and football building for the Rams.

Franklin stated the NFL has emphasised women’ flag football as a result of nearly each and every highschool in the rustic has a tackle-football program for boys.

“As we look at inclusion and opportunity, there has not been access necessarily for girls to play in a safe way,” he stated. “So through this pilot program, we wanted to make sure that we give girls an opportunity to have ownership of their own sport, to grow their sport, to create that passion, that desire.

“There are boys-only sports, right? Now let’s create opportunities for girls.”

The recreation additionally has a big following in Latin America, thank you in section to the simplicity of the sport. Like football, all it calls for is a small open area, a ball and a handful of pals.

And gender doesn’t topic, Castillo stated.

“That’s the beauty of flag football. Everyone can play. It’s accessible and inclusive,” she stated. “We don’t have any problem with the gender thing in Panama with flag football. Women have been represented a lot and play football and we have done a great job.”

“It empowers women. It gives equal representation on the field. So there’s no limits.”

— Diana Flores, flag football quarterback

Diana Flores of Mexico City was once drawn to the game when she was once 8. Her father — who performed quarterback for Monterrey Tech, Mexico’s most sensible school program — took her to a convention and she was once hooked, quitting piano and dance courses to play flag football as a substitute.

Because there have been no groups on the time for ladies her age, she had to compete in opposition to gamers two times as outdated, a handicap she become a bonus.

“I was playing with girls that were taller than me, of course faster than me,” she stated. “But I learned to focus on my abilities, on the things that made me better, and to work on them. … It gave me the opportunity to grow as an athlete and as a person.”

Eight years later, she made Mexico’s nationwide group, taking part in in the primary of 4 Flag Football World Championships in which she has seemed up to now. This yr, as Mexico’s beginning quarterback at age 24, she beat the U.S. two times — the second one win coming in the World Games ultimate, the place she finished 20 of 28 passes for 210 yards and 4 touchdowns in a 39-6 romp.

Mexico’s girls’s group is probably the most a hit in the historical past of the game, profitable 3 gold medals, a silver and a bronze in the International Federation of American Football World Championships, a contest this is held each and every two years.

“It empowers women,” Flores stated of flag football, which in Mexico demanding situations no longer best wearing stereotypes however gender ones as smartly. “It gives equal representation on the field. So there’s no limits.”

According to Flores, an estimated 3 million folks play flag football in Mexico, the place faculties are starting to award scholarships for ladies to play.

“This is just a first step for opening new paths and new opportunities. Not only Mexico, but worldwide,” she stated. “That’s why I’m happy to be an ambassador and start opening those doors.”

One door she hopes will open quickly is the only main to the Olympics. Flag football is considered one of 9 sports activities that closing month petitioned for inclusion in the 2028 Los Angeles Games, along motorsports, cricket, karate, baseball/softball, lacrosse, kickboxing, breaking and squash.

The recreation would seem to have key sides that the International Olympic Committee appears for: It’s rapid, has a manageable collection of gamers and a strict cut-off date — with halves lasting between 15 and 25 mins, relying at the festival.

Rosters are 15 gamers deep and touch isn’t allowed, because of this no tackling, diving, blocking off or screening. Instead, gamers put on flags that dangle alongside their facets on a belt; to “tackle” the ballcarrier, an opponent will have to pull off some of the two flags.

There aren’t any punts or kickoffs. Pass rushers will have to get started seven yards off the road of scrimmage, and quarterbacks have simply seven seconds to do away with the ball; they may be able to’t run with it except they hand it off to a teammate first.

Flag football’s inclusion in the World Games, that have been first held in 1981 to spotlight occasions competing for a place at the Olympic calendar, was once the most important step in getting international reputation. (This summer time’s festival featured 3,600 athletes from 110 nations competing in 30 occasions, together with wheelchair rugby and tug of warfare.)

The IOC is anticipated to announce its choice relating to further sports activities for the Los Angeles Games at its common assembly subsequent spring in Mumbai.

Flores isn’t maintaining her breath.

But then, she stated, she doesn’t want an Olympic medal to validate her occupation. Flag football has taken her to competitions in Italy, Denmark, Israel, the U.S. and Central America. What she desires to do is give again to the sport via serving to it grow.

“I’m here and I’m one of the best in the world, you know? So to be able to show to all the little girls that they are able to do that, I think that’s what we’re doing,” she stated. “We’re inspiring women and young kids to dream big. And to see that it is possible for their dreams to come true. It is possible to do everything they want.”

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