Over 800 athletes arrive in Israel as Jerusalem hosts the 2021 IFAF World Championships

Dec 8, 2021 | Jews in Sports

The 2021 Flag Football World Championships is taking place in Jerusalem, Israel for the first time. Over 800 athletes, from 25 different countries, making up 41 teams, flew to Israel this week to compete in this event. The games are being played at the Kraft Family Sports Complex from December 6th-8th. The top eight men’s teams and the top eight women’s teams at the end of the tournament will be awarded spots at the 2022 World Games in Birmingham, Alabama in July. More importantly, every flag football player is fighting for the game to be included in the 2028 Olympic games in Los Angeles, California. Vice President of the International Federation of American Football, Scott Hallenbeck, announced that for the first time, the Olympic Channel will be broadcasting these World Championships globally.

Although each team is fighting on behalf of its own country, and for spots in upcoming tournaments, every team is united in fighting for an increase in recognition as flag football becomes increasingly popular. In his motivating speech to the players at the opening ceremony, president of American Football In Israel, Steve Leibowitz said, “Look around the room, some of you will be Olympic athletes.”

During the opening ceremony, Chile’s head coach came on stage and said, “There is nothing more truthful than being an Olympic athlete… I am so grateful for each and every one of you, for being here, for doing the same thing that makes me go nuts, makes me go passionate. For each and every one of you, thank you once again very much for being here, for competing against each other in harmony.”

Robert Kraft, the owner and CEO of the NFL’s New England Patriots, and donor of the Kraft Family Sports Complex, gave his own opening remarks. He said, “It has been a long road to finally host the games here in the Holy Land… When we dedicated this facility, it was my hope and dream that we could use it to advance the game of football across Europe, the Middle East, and the entire world. I have always championed the importance of building bridges and bringing people of different backgrounds together. Cherish this experience and may the best teams win, עם ישראל חי.” It is especially exciting for Israel to be able to host these games, because in 2014 they were originally supposed to be held in Israel, but due to Operation Protective Edge, the games were moved to Italy.

The mayor of Jerusalem, Moshe Lion, also attended the opening ceremony and spoke to all of the athletes, welcoming them to Israel. For the majority of these athletes, it is their first time in Israel. Despite limited touring opportunities due to Covid, Mary Kate Bula, who is a linebacker for the women’s USA national team, described her first impression of Israel as “beautiful and spiritual.”

In 1989, Israel had just organized its own small touch football league. Thirty-two years later, Israel has come a long way, now having its own flag football team, playing at the highest level, and hosting one of the sport’s biggest tournaments, the World Championships.
During day one of the World Championships, the Israeli women’s team beat Denmark 26-19. In their second game, they lost to Japan 40-0. The Israeli men’s team beat Finland 61-12, Slovakia 56-0, and then they finished off the day beating Thailand 48-13.

Day two of the World Championships, the Israeli women’s team tied with Brazil 20-20. The Israeli men’s team lost to Germany 52-41, and then fell to Mexico 48-41.

Neither Israeli team advanced to the playoff round. However, in the placement games, the Israeli women’s team lost to Germany 31-19, and to Czechia 25-24. The Israeli men’s team beat the Neutral Team 43-27, and Spain 59-19.

The Israeli women’s team placed third in their four team division. The Israeli men’s team placed third in their six team division.

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