From a Dan Patrick Show interview with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell:
On the possibility of American football becoming an Olympic sport:
“Absolutely. We’re already taking steps to gain that IOC recognition. We have, I think it’s 64 countries that are playing American football now, and that’s one of the requirements. And that’s been growing dramatically. I think it was 40 just five years ago, so we’re seeing that kind of growth internationally. It’s being played around the world. We have a national federation under USA Football Federation, and those are the types of things you have to do to become an Olympic sport.”
On if there’s a timeline in place for that:
“No, again, those decisions are made by the IOC. They look at how the game is being played around the globe, and we’re trying to make sure we continue to broaden the scope of our game, and if they give us the opportunity we certainly would push for it.”
I assume Goodell is correct in his assertion that 64 countries are playing American football. The number of countries playing American football as well as the U.S. is likely to be 63 fewer than that. Only one country, Canada, could touch the U.S. in an international game, and of course Canada plays under different rules.
The history of Olympic baseball (demonstration sport in 1984 and 1988, played in the next five Olympics, now gone) and softball (four Olympics, now gone) are cautionary tales for American football. There is an International Federation of American Football with 62 member nations,
While football has had players from Argentina, Australia (former UW kicker Pat O’Dea, the “Kangaroo Kicker”), Austria, the Bahamas, Barbados, Britain, Cameroon, Canada (former Packer punter Jon Ryan), Colombia, the Congo, Cuba, (the late) Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany (former Packer John Jurkovic), Ghana, Greece, Haiti, Honduras, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica (former Packer safety Atari Bigby and Super Bowl XXXI defensive end Sean Jones), Japan, Lebanon, Liberia (former Packer defensive back Bhawoh Jue), Macedonia, the Marshall Islands, Mexico (former Packer kicker Max Zendejas), the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria (former Packer running back Samkon Gado), Norway (former Packer Jan Stenerud and Knute Rockne), Panama, Paraguay, Poland (former Badger Jason Maniecki and former Packer Chester Marcol), Russia (former Badger Charles “Buckets” Goldenberg, credited as the creator of the draw play), Saint Kitts and Nevis (former Badger defensive lineman Erasmus James), El Salvador, Samoa, Sierra Leone (former Badger defensive back B.J. Tucker), South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Tonga (former Packer kick returner Vai Sikahema), Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda and the Ukraine, that doesn’t mean any of those countries could beat a U.S. football team.
Consider also the fact that the Olympics takes place over 17 days, and football games are usually placed once per week. That leaves three rounds of games, which means a maximum of eight games — four the first weekend, two the next, and then the gold-medal (and perhaps bronze-medal) games. How would you find eight countries, even if you counted Puerto Rico as a country (which the Olympics does and the U.S. doesn’t)? And of those eight, at least three have to be at least somewhat competitive with the U.S. Otherwise, the games could end up looking like Stockbridge(enrollment 68) against Stevens Point (enrollment 2,251).
It would also be helpful if the U.S. would host a summer Olympics, which isn’t in the cards until 2024 at the earliest. (The 2020 Olympics will be held in Tokyo, Istanbul or Madrid.)