International flag football athletes took centre stage in activities to mark the NFL Kickoff, the season-opening NFL showcase hosted this year in Los Angeles.
Six players representing the six medal winning teams from flag football’s debut at The World Games 2022 in Birmingham, Alabama were honored on-field at the ceremonial opening game between the Los Angeles Rams and Buffalo Bills at SoFi Stadium.
The celebrations were part of a joint initiative between the International Federation of American Football (IFAF) and the National Football League (NFL) to further raise the profile of flag football and promote its unique values following its debut at The World Games in July - the first time the sport has been included in a global multisport event.
The on-field moment, which saw each athlete display their medal in front of cheering crowds at a sold out SoFi Stadium, was broadcast live and in prime time on the NBC network and shared with millions more fans via the NFL’s global broadcast partners. Footage of the elite athletes at The World Games was also displayed on the big screen allowing the audience a taste of the thrilling action that took place at Birmingham’s iconic Legion Field earlier this year.
“In a year of exciting milestones, The World Games was an incredible showcase for flag football”, the IFAF stated in their press release. Sixteen of the world’s best men’s and women’s teams took part across five days of intense competition, presented by the NFL. Medalists hailed from Mexico, USA, Italy and Panama, highlighting the globally competitive nature of the fast-growing sport.
The athletes representing their teams at NFL Kickoff were:
Women’s TWG 2022 medalists:
Diana Flores - Mexico (Gold)
Vanita Krouch - USA (Silver)
Andrea Castillo - Panama (Bronze)
Men’s TWG 2022 medalists:
Darrell Doucette - USA (Gold)
Luke Zahradka - Italy (Silver)
Fernando Espinoza - Mexico (Bronze)
In addition to the on-field moment, the flag athletes were invited to take part in a number of events as guests of the LA Rams and NFL, including interviews and a studio tour of the NFL Network campus. On Wednesday the six athletes helped deliver new flag equipment to students at Morningside High School in Inglewood. The equipment – donated collectively by the IFAF, USA Football, the NFL and the LA Rams – will be shared between schools in the Inglewood Unified School District to promote the development of the game at the grassroots level.
Peter O’Reilly, NFL Executive Vice President, Club Business & League Events, said:
“It has been an honor to showcase the achievements and stories of these incredible international athletes during NFL Kickoff. These six men and women embody everything that is great about flag football: its inclusivity and diversity, its global appeal, and all the qualities – speed, skill, creativity – that have attracted so many young fans to the game. The momentum behind flag around the world is tremendous. At the NFL and across our clubs, we will continue to use our platform to elevate flag, its values and its athletes.”
The six players were also named Thursday as the newest Global Flag Football Ambassadors by IFAF, joining international stars such as NFL quarterbacks Russell Wilson (Denver Broncos) and Cooper Kupp (LA Rams) as part of a team of high profile athletes, coaches and legends of the game who are working together to increase awareness, interest and participation in flag football. The Global Flag Football Ambassador program, launched earlier this week, is a further example of the collaborative approach being taken by IFAF and the NFL to drive forward the development of the game.
Currently played by men, women, boys and girls of all ages in more than 100 countries around the world, flag football is a high-speed, highly skilled non-contact format of American Football. Already one of the fastest growing sports in the world, with huge youth appeal, flag football is at the heart of the NFL’s domestic and international participation and development strategies. It is also expanding at the elite level, with IFAF poised to launch the biggest-ever cycle of international flag competition, including full continental representation for the first time, from 2023.
Diana Flores, gold medal winning quarterback from Mexico, said:
“It was a great honor to represent my country of Mexico and my sport of flag football at the NFL Kickoff at SoFi Stadium. It was a very emotional moment for me and one I will not forget for a very long time. Winning gold at The World Games in Birmingham was the highlight of my career so far and I am so proud to be able to share it with so many people - I hope that it inspires others to take up the sport that I love. Flag football is truly for everyone - men, women, children, all shapes and sizes can play - there are no barriers in flag.”
Darrell Doucette, Gold medal winning quarterback from USA, said:
“I am absolutely blown away by the reception we received in LA and I want to thank IFAF and the NFL for making this happen. It is so important for flag football and for us, as athletes, to be recognised in this way - I’m sure it will have a big impact on the sport. I am extremely proud and happy to join the Global Flag Football Ambassadors. Playing flag football for the US National Team and winning gold in Birmingham has meant so much to me as an athlete. I can’t wait to give back to the sport that I love and help it grow for the next generation coming through.”
Pierre Trochet, President of the International Federation of American Football, said:
“It was an incredible moment to see our international flag athletes celebrated during the NFL Kickoff game between the Rams and the Bills and we were delighted to collaborate with the NFL to make this happen. This has already been a huge year for flag football; from its debut at The World Games, to the announcement of the biggest-ever cycle of international flag football competition, across all continents, starting next year, to the launch of the Global Flag Ambassador programme and our athletes being center-stage here in LA this week. We are committed to building on these key moments and driving forward flag’s future growth.”
The World Games is a multi-sport event staged every four years by the International World Games Association, organised with the support of the International Olympic Committee. The World Games 2022 was held in Birmingham, Alabama, USA, 7-17 July 2022. 3,600 athletes from 34 sports and 100 countries took part in the Games. The 12th edition of The World Games will be held in Chengdu, CHN in 2025.