A quick race back and forth across the muddy field. The distance is not greater. However, the majority of the 30 young people give up just over half of their effort. The tank is empty at the end of soccer practice. And also with the Dutch national team. Outsiders have a hard time imagining that this assembled group includes potential Olympic athletes.
They practice sports included in the program of the 2028 Olympic Games. In addition to football, cricket, baseball, softball and squash, they will also be on the program in Los Angeles, the International Olympic Committee decided a week ago.
The deep voice of national coach Kliff Dankers (33) once again echoes across the stadium in Leiden. And his men, who are ninth at the European Championships in Ireland this summer, must cross the field again. As punishment for following his instructions, he received half a loaf of bread. Some of them stand with their hands on their knees, shaking their heads in disbelief. “Another sprint, no, why?” Someone dares to ask.
The answer can be guessed: the 2028 Olympics. There is still a long way to go, admits 21-year-old international athlete Hope Schuurmann, who has thoroughly enjoyed the sprints. The people of Burmerend combine this sport with that of goalkeeper in amateur football. “The Olympic recognition is a step to draw attention to this small sport, which everyone only practices casually in the gym. I don’t think it is possible for me to be in the Dutch national team in three years. With a broader base, the bar goes higher.
Cat and mouse
Football is a humble sport all over the world. Although the organizers of the NFL – the American football competition was the biggest driver of the Olympic lobby – claim that there are more than twenty million participants in one hundred countries. In the Netherlands, 150 seniors and 250 children play flag football. The sport is so young that only women compete in men’s competitions.
Thirty players attended this general training of the Dutch national team. Including internationals. Schurmann tries in vain to avoid comparison to football. What if national coach Ronald Koeman invited all his compatriots to kick the ball with Frenkie de Jong and Virgil van Dijk? Zeist will be very small.
From the side, football looks like a game of cat and mouse for adults. Dankers calls it “invading the country.” It’s the faster, non-contact version of American football, although they prefer not to do it themselves. Although in the Netherlands both sports fall under the umbrella of one federation.
Not for the faint of heart
The basic rules of the game are the same: teams attempt to gain ground with an oval ball through passes and runs to score points in the “end zone.” Instead of eleven-on-eleven, five-on-five is played in the form of a korfball court. Tackle is not allowed. The defender stops the attacker by pulling one of the two forty-centimeter strips from his belt.
Do not approach players with the Dutch translation of “flag football”, this will make their hair stand on end. Don’t call it “American football for wimps.” They want to get rid of that image. “It’s more technical than a lot of people think,” says Dankers.
However, this photo gave them Olympic recognition. Because contact is prohibited, soccer is much less dangerous than American football, where concussions and other physical injuries are the rule rather than the exception. The NFL believes this variant, played mainly by children in the United States, makes the sport future-proof.
Schurman believes that flag football is more inclusive. “There are no strangers in this sport. We are not a team, but a family. Every feature of the body brings a quality, so everyone has their own role and it is important.
The family feeling is also there towards the opponents. The taken tape is returned, not thrown on the ground and trampled. “There’s a lot of hate in football, and that doesn’t exist here. Mutual respect is part of the culture. Nice, isn’t it?”
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