Pierre  Trochet

As 2022 comes to a close, so too does my first year as President of the International Federation of American Football (IFAF).

In football terms, you might say this is "first down." All of us in the IFAF family can be proud of the considerable yardage we have gained during these past 12 months, which we knew from the outset would be defining for our federation.

The stakes were high in 2022 as we sought to begin a new chapter for IFAF, with reinforced governance and professionalisation supporting our application for full International Olympic Committee recognition. 

At the same time, the year presented us with an extraordinary double opportunity thanks to flag football’s breakthrough appearance at The World Games in Birmingham, Alabama and the opening of the additional sports selection process for the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic Games.

I always say that American football is the ultimate team sport - and our progress this year has depended on the collective efforts of everyone.

On the field, the athletes have been spectacular, with highlights including a magnificent IFAF Women’s Tackle World Championship in Finland. 

And there is no disputing that the inaugural The World Games flag football tournament was a scintillating success, with a series of highly contested matches culminating in an historic and emotional victory for Mexico’s women’s team over the United States at the iconic Legion Field stadium.

Birmingham was also the stage of our 2022 Congress, which brought together National Federations and provided the new IFAF Executive Board with an opportunity to set out progress against our commitments to unity, growth and professional governance.

Most notably, we have completed the migration of all IFAF functions to Paris, France, where the federation was formally established in 1998. 

The move forms part of wider efforts to professionalise our operations, which have seen us agree a number of key partnerships, as well as commissioning a full review of our commercial rights programme.

The appearance of women's flag football at the 2022 World Games was one of the highlights of the year for the IFAF ©IFAF
The appearance of women's flag football at the 2022 World Games was one of the highlights of the year for the IFAF ©IFAF

In the area of governance, Congress voted in favour of proposals to strengthen IFAF statutes, integrating commitments to improved gender representation and sustainable practices.

As an example, we have engaged Play It Green - a specialist UK consultancy - to establish a series of commitments that deliver against the United Nations' Sports for Climate Action Framework and Sustainable Development Goals. This includes establishing a forest garden to offset IFAF's carbon emissions by removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

Meanwhile, anti-doping and athlete welfare remain our highest priorities. 2022 has brought further year-on-year increases in investment in clean sport education, out-of-competition testing, and legal guidance on compliance. 

We have also commissioned our first athlete survey and signed an agreement with the Ann Craft Trust to complete a full safeguarding risk assessment and policy framework recommendation, with support from the US Center for Safe Sport for training and education materials.

As we look to the future, we understand the critical importance of building capacity and developing sustainable international competition structures.

It’s why I am proud that next year sees the start of the biggest-ever global competition cycle in flag football as we build towards an historic World Championship in 2024 with regional qualifying competitions for all continents for the first time.

There is so much to look forward to in 2023 - not least opportunities to leverage the incredible global explosion of flag football. An estimated 20 million people are now playing the discipline in more than 100 countries. 

This includes 300,000 youth players in China and 100,000 new players in Mexico in the last year alone. As the most inclusive, accessible and youth-friendly format of our sport, flag is rightly the cornerstone of our international development programmes.

We must recognise the commitment of our National Federations to driving grassroots participation and developing representative structures in flag.

Indeed, across our 72 IFAF member nations, 2023 will see flag football overtake tackle in terms of organised participation opportunities. 

Pierre Trochet described 2022 as a defining year for the International Federation of American Football ©IFAF
Pierre Trochet described 2022 as a defining year for the International Federation of American Football ©IFAF

Moreover, more countries than ever will operate national squad structures with an increase of more than 20 percentage points over the last cycle.

In this context, IFAF’s partnership with the National Football League (NFL) represents a game-changing opportunity to align our international development efforts. 

This year has brought strengthened collaboration through the Vision28 group, which I co-chair with NFL legend and executive vice-president Troy Vincent, while 2023 will see the IFAF Congress in Paris vote on a proposal to add NFL representation to our Executive Board.

As the NFL continues to experience exponential international fan growth, complementing its unrivalled position in the American cultural landscape (did you know, for example, that 75 of the 100 most-watched TV broadcasts in the US last year were NFL games?) we have seen the power of their platforms to raise the profile of international flag athletes and storylines.

For example, coverage of The World Games finals achieved more than one million views over NFL channels, while the medallists took centre stage at the flagship NFL Kick-Off game in Los Angeles in September. 

Leading IFAF athletes have also joined forces with some of the NFL’s biggest current stars to promote flag football around the world through our co-branded ambassador programme.

Next year will reveal the full potential of this transformative collaboration when the NFL Pro Bowl takes place in a flag football format for the first time in Las Vegas. 

IFAF athletes including quarterbacks Vanita Krouch of the United States and Diana Flores of Mexico, chair of the IFAF Athletes Committee, have been drafted as coaches to NFL players who share their Olympic dream.

In front of a network TV audience of millions, the event promises to showcase everything football offers to the Olympic movement.

As IFAF, however, our first focus remains the interests of our athletes and members. There can be multiple touchdowns ahead if we all play our role in the team.