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Why flag football could be the next Olympic sport

CBC Sports' daily newsletter takes a quick look at NFL star DK Metcalf's chances of qualifying for the U.S. Olympic trials in the 100 metres before exploring another way we might see American football players in the Games one day.

It makes sense for the 2028 Games in L.A. — and the NFL is behind it

NFL star DK Metcalf has dreams of making the Olympics as a sprinter, but his best shot might come if flag football makes it into the 2028 L.A. Games. (Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

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Flag football could be the next Olympic sport

On Sunday, star NFL wide receiver DK Metcalf will compete in the men's 100 metres at the USA Track and Field Golden Games and Distance Open in California. It's a pretty big meet that will also feature American stars Allyson Felix and Noah Lyles in other races. But everyone will be watching Metcalf as he attempts to qualify for next month's U.S. Olympic trials. He'll need to run 10.05 seconds (a world-class time) to earn an automatic spot, though 10.16 was enough to get into the last U.S. trials, in 2016.

Metcalf is, even by NFL standards, a freakishly gifted athlete. He's 6-foot-4, 229 pounds, with a physique that looks like it was carved by Michelangelo. In October, he made the play of the year when he chased down an opponent over nearly the entire length of the field (longer when you consider Metcalf's diagonal path) to stop him from returning an interception for a touchdown. Metcalf reached a top speed of 22.6 mph on the play — around what an elite sprinter averages in the 100 metres. That he did it on grass in full football equipment convinced some NFL fans that the Seattle receiver could rival the world's best on the track.

That's a mistake — there's a big difference between reaching 22.6 mph and averaging it over the course of the whole race. And besides, Metcalf never even ran track in college. But Sunday's race, even if it's just a stunt for him, is going to be fun. As CBC Sports contributor Morgan Campbell writes in this excellent breakdown of Metcalf's actual chances of qualifying for the U.S. trials, sports could use more stuff like this.

While Metcalf's 2021 Olympics dream will probably die on Sunday, there's a chance another Olympic path could open up for him and other football players. Reuters reported recently that the NFL is backing a campaign for flag football to be added to the program for the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

Per the Reuters report, the formal pitch to the International Olympic Committee will be made by the International Federation of American Football. But the NFL, which is always looking for ways to expand its global footprint (read: make more money), has promised to "help in terms of influence and alignment and bringing people together," said the executive in charge of the league's international operations.

As the world's richest sports league, the NFL certainly has influence. And, if you think about it, flag football actually makes sense as an Olympic sport.

Starting with this summer's Tokyo Games, the IOC now allows host countries to propose adding sports that are popular locally. That's why karate is making its Olympic debut this summer in Tokyo and baseball was brought back. Paris 2024 organizers were able to get breakdancing added to their Games. American football might seem like a tougher sell because it's thoroughly dominated by one country and hasn't really caught on in much of the world. The U.S. would destroy everyone in its path — both on the scoreboard and in terms of actual bodily harm.

But that's where flag football comes in. It's a much more accessible version of the sport that requires far fewer players, far less equipment and, with no tackling, is much safer. For the Olympics, the IFAF is pitching a 5-on-5 game played on smaller fields.

There's quite a bit of precedent for this. 3-on-3 basketball — another modified version of an American-dominated sport — will make its Olympic debut in Tokyo. Rugby sevens — a smaller, faster, safer variant of the traditional game — looks like it's here to stay after debuting four years ago in Rio. Mixed doubles curling was a hit at the last Winter Olympics.

A lot needs to happen to get flag football into the 2028 Olympics. But, considering how popular football is in the States (and in L.A. itself), and that the NFL seems willing to throw its weight behind it, it's probably got a better shot than DK Metcalf in the 100 metres.

DK Metcalf's actual body, somehow. (Scott Eklund/The Associated Press)

Quickly...

An openly transgender athlete could compete in the Olympics for the first time. Based on her world ranking, it appears weightlifter Laurel Hubbard will qualify for Tokyo. The New Zealand Olympic Committee says it will decide in June whether to name her to its team based on her potential to place in the top eight. She won silver in the overall competition of the heaviest women's weight class at the 2017 world championships, and placed sixth in 2019. Hubbard, 43, competed against men until 2001 before transitioning in her mid-30s. Under the Olympics' transgender guidelines, athletes who transition from male to female are eligible to compete in women's events if they identify as female and their testosterone stays below a certain level for at least a year. But the issue of trans women and girls competing in women's sports remains polarizing — right down to the high-school level. Read more about that in this piece by CBC Sports contributor Jim Morris.

Canada gave itself a chance to make the playoffs at the women's curling world championship. A 6-4 win over China in their round-robin finale today gave Kerri Einarson's rink a 7-6 record. At the moment, that's just good enough for a spot in the six-team playoffs — and the Olympic berth that comes with it. But there are two more draws left, so Canada's place isn't guaranteed. We'll know more about Canada's status around 7 p.m. ET, when the Germany vs. Switzerland game ends. If the second-place Swiss beat the seventh-place Germans, Canada is in the playoffs. If the Germans pull the upset, it gets more complicated. CBC Sports' Devin Heroux will break it all down with Colleen Jones on That Curling Show tonight at 7:30 p.m. ET on the CBC Sports YouTube channel. You can also stay up-to-the-second (literally) by following Devin's prolific Twitter feed.

This weekend on CBC Sports

Olympic Games Replay: This week's show features the best moments from the 2016 Olympic swimming events in Rio, where Penny Oleksiak won four medals (including gold in the 100m freestyle) and Canadians reached the podium six times. Watch it Saturday from 1-4 p.m ET on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and the CBC TV network.

Road to the Olympic Games: This week's show features highlights from the FINA Diving World Cup — the Olympic test event in Tokyo where Canadians won five medals over the past week. Watch it Saturday 4-6 p.m. ET on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and the CBC TV network.

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