Six-a-side football is gaining momentum in Canada, and has caught the eye of the International Olympic Committee.
The International Federation of American Football (IFAF) was given provisional recognition by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on December 9. This is the first and most important step towards eventual inclusion in an Olympic Games.
The International Olympic Committee is interested in the game in its 6 on 6 or 7 on 7 varieties, however, as opposed to the more mainstream 12 on 12.
“Because of logistics and a cap on the number of overall athletes invited to participate, the most likely style of American football that would potentially gain acceptance is of the seven-on-seven variety,” wrote Fox Sports reporter Alex Marvez. “Having both men’s and women’s competitions also would likely be required for selection as an Olympic sport.”
Six-man football is thriving in many Canadian communities, especially those sparsely populated or not equipped to field a 12-a-side program. Current Canadian hotbeds for six-man football include rural Saskatchewan and many Aboriginal communities.
6-A-Side Football has been played in Saskatchewan for over 50 years with 29 schools currently participating in the program in the province. Alberta, Manitoba, Quebec, and New Brunsick also run programs. An annual Can-Am Bowl is played between All Stars from Saskatchewan and a team from the US Midwest, where the game is also very popular.
“Six-man is fast paced, allows for 1-on-1 coaching, and gives more players a chance to touch the ball,” said Patrick DeLottinville, Communications, Football Canada (players are not as regulated into defined positions, meaning bigger players become more incorporated in offensive schemes). “Players in six-man are not as regulated into defined positions, meaning bigger players become more incorporated in offensive schemes. Basically it gives more kids the chance to play tackle football and learn the fundamentals of tackling, blocking, passing, catching and kicking.”
Six-man often utilizes a slightly smaller field (80 yards long and 40 yards wide). Everyone on the field is an eligible receiver.
Marvez reports that IFAF already has 64 member countries from six continents playing three types of men’s and women’s football – tackle, flag and beach.
“IOC recognition opens the door for IFAF funding from national sports ministries that already help financially subsidize athletes in Olympic sports. Competitions can now be held at international events like the Commonwealth and Pan-American games. Plus, other countries that currently aren’t IFAF members also may now consider fielding teams,” wrote Marvez.
“The more money invested, the greater the likelihood of football’s international popularity growing beyond the NFL’s efforts of annually playing regular-season games in London. An improved level of international competition also would have a positive trickle-down effect on college and NFL teams scouting for talent.”
There currently more than 300,000 kids playing American football internationally in 2012 (the majority are Canadians).
“IFAF is hoping to ultimately follow in the footsteps of rugby, which has steadily grown in worldwide popularity and parlayed IOC recognition into becoming an Olympic event for the first time since 1924,” wrote Marvez. “A seven-on-seven form of men’s and women’s rugby will debut at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.”
IFAF leaders, though, are well aware that it will take time for American football to garner enough global popularity to gain recognition as a full-fledged Olympic sport.
Marvez’ full piece is available here: http://msn.foxsports.com/nfl/story/american-football-provisional-recognition-international-olympic-committee-possible-medal-sport-2024-121013
“The federation (IFAF) has long demonstrated strong youth appeal and is making great progress in developing their sport around the world,” IOC sports director Christophe Dubi said in a statement. “We trust that this provisional recognition will generate momentum in the further universal development of their disciplines.”
In Northern Saskatchewan, CBC.ca reports that a six-man football league that was started this fall is also helping keep kids in school:
The introduction of a football program to northern Saskatchewan schools has helped bring some students back to their studies, a principal says.
The Northern Saskatchewan Football League finished up on Saturday with the Pinehouse Lakers defeating the Buffalo Narrows Eagles 50-32 in Buffalo Narrows.
High school students in six different northern communities had the chance to play six-man football this year for the first time.
According to Jackie Durocher, the principal at Twin Lake School in Buffalo Narrows, the program has encouraged some dropouts to come back and finish their education.
“It has brought students back to school, high school students,” Durocher said. “I have one player on our team who has been out of school for four years. [He] came back to school and is enjoying football, doing well in school” said Mark Williment, the superintendent of education with the Northern Lights School Division and the man who started the Northern Saskatchewan Football League, said he’s pleased with how it has worked out.
“Kids want to have some recognition, they want to have fun, they want a sense of belonging, and football has done it for them,” he said.
Parker McKay, the quarterback of the Eagles, said he hopes football will open some doors for him.
“It means I have a reason to probably stay in school longer,” he said. “Maybe this will even turn into something better if I really start to enjoy it. Maybe I’ll try out for a university team or something like that.”
The Northern Saskatchewan Football League will be back next year. The Northern 6-Man Football League consists of six teams in two divisions – La Loche Lakers, Buffalo Narrows Eagles and Beauval Voyageurs compete in the Western Division. The Pinehouse Lakers, Sandy Bay T-Wolves and Cumberland House Islanders play in the Eastern Division. The LaRonge Chargers is the only team competing in the Saskatchewan High Schools Athletic Association (SHSAA) this season. They’re involved with teams from Shellbrook, Spiritwood, Wakaw and Rosthern in the Fort Carlton 6-Man 2A league.