TORONTO (Reuters) - The pioneers of women’s American football know that much is at stake this week as they showcase their sport at their first world championship.
Olympic recognition is the ultimate dream but organizers of the event in Sweden accept it is a long-term goal.
“If everything goes smooth and we are extremely successful I would still say that we are at least 15 years away, and that is if we are extremely successful,” International Federation of American Football (IFAF) president Tommy Wiking told Reuters in a recent telephone interview.
“Even if (National Football League commissioner) Roger Goodell would call me tomorrow and say: ‘I am going to give you all the money you need’ it would still take me 15 years.”
The IFAF has told the International Olympic Committee (IOC) it will apply for recognition as a body next year. If that was granted, it would block any other organization from putting itself forward as the federation for the sport.
With the sport gaining popularity, Wiking figured the time was right to give the women’s game an opportunity to shine.
Hosts Sweden have been joined by the United States, Canada, Germany, Austria and Finland for the world championship, which was starting on Sunday. The gold-medal game is set for July 3.
The IFAF has 59 member countries on five continents with national federations dedicated solely to American football, up from a handful when it was formed in 1998.
Wiking said his idea to stage a women’s world championship met a lot of resistance at first as many people wanted a European or Asian championship held first.
Wiking ultimately grew impatient and told the IFAF’s executive committee that if nobody else wanted to host the championship then Sweden would step up because he did not want to hold off any longer.
“Nobody thought that way when we discussed the junior world championship or the senior world championship, not one,” said Wiking. “But then when we talked about the women there were all sorts of lame excuses.”
All the tournament’s games will be played in a 3,500-seat venue in Stockholm and Wiking said a conservative estimate on ticket sales for the final game was about 1,500.
The next women’s world championship is in 2013 and Wiking expects China, Japan and Brazil to participate. After that the tournament will be played every four years.
USA Football women’s national team coach John Konecki has never coached on an international stage before but is aware of the responsibilities that his team carry as pioneers.
He said the lack of a big audience for women’s American football had more to do with not yet having a platform to showcase the sport than the quality of the game.
He promised his players would run a constant series of complex plays on offense and defense when they got their turn in the spotlight.
“This is about growing the game, being ambassadors of the game and showing that we can put a high quality product on the field,” Konecki told Reuters by telephone.
“One of the first things I did when I came to the team is explain to the players the gravity about being pioneers in women’s football and having just a tremendous opportunity.”
While the United States are seeded as the top team for the tournament and are eager to claim the championship, the players are also aware of the bigger picture.
A good show at this tournament would help to ensure its viability in years to come and give the IFAF ammunition when it tried to sell the idea of American football to the IOC.
“We all know that in the back of our minds it’s not just for us in 2010,” Team USA wide receiver Adrienne Smith told Reuters in a telephone interview.
“It’s for other little girls who have not even been born yet, or for some who may be coming along in 2015, 2020 even 2025.”
Editing by Clare Fallon