When the first Flag Football World Cup was held in Austria in 2002, no one could have guessed how the sport would develop. Although, “World Cup” was a somewhat misleading term with only four participating teams – Sweden, Germany, France and Austria. Nevertheless, a start had been made, and Austria took on a pioneering role both on the field and organizationally.
After tournaments in France in 2004 and South Korea in 2006, 2008 saw the first World Cup worthy of the name. Canada was the organizer and teams from Europe, Asia and America took part in the competitions. Since then, both the number of participants and the media interest have been increasing steadily, a development that has reached its peak so far in 2022.
The World Games, which take place every four years, were created in 1981 as an international competition for non-Olympic sports. Trampolining, water skiing or powerlifting are disciplines that have been part of the program from the very beginning. In a few days the World Games 2022 will start in Birmingham, Alabama. The organizers decided, with strong support from the IFAF and the NFL, to include flag football in the program. An incredible opportunity to showcase the sport on a grand scale, only eclipsed by the fact that flag football could become an Olympic sport as early as 2028.
Austria’s national teams arrived in Alabama yesterday and now have three days to acclimatize ahead of the opening game on Sunday night European time. Shortly before leaving, Michael Salamon, the head coach of the Austrian men’s national team, was available for an interview.
Hi Michael! Thank you for taking the time for an interview so close to the start of the World Games. How have the preparations gone so far?
In contrast to the preparation for the World Cup, we didn’t lose our QB1 through an injury at the last camp, which is very good.
We had two test days in a larger circle and then three weekend camps where we could prepare more intensively. Unfortunately, the process wasn’t ideal in that we were affected by Covid illnesses and minor injuries in the squad and didn’t always have the whole team together all the time. But I think we still worked well and were able to prepare accordingly. The atmosphere in the team was positive right from the start and the players didn’t let that bother them too much.
In addition to the field units, we have also worked more in the mental area this year and that is already showing results. That will definitely be something that will help us at the World Games, but also in the long term.
Are there any changes in the team compared to the World Cup in December??
The core of the squad is the same. The return of Felix Wasshuber as QB1 is clearly gratifying. Otherwise we tried out one or the other player in preparation. But almost all of them were at least from the extended squad of 2021. By limiting the size of the squad to 12 instead of 15 players like at the World Cup or European Championship, we couldn’t do any big experiments. Ultimately, we are newly filled in the QB1 and a receiver position.
What are you looking forward to most about the World Games?
I have to answer that twice. On the one hand, I’m happy that we have the chance to compete against the top nations in this historic event. The level will be very high. On the other hand, it will of course also be a great personal experience to experience such an event and soak up the impressions. I hope that there will also be a little time for this, because of course we are primarily there for sport. And of course it’s clearly my job and responsibility to ensure that the team is as prepared as possible for the games.
What is the team’s greatest strength?
The greatest strength is certainly the team spirit and cohesion. Most of the players have been playing together for a long time and are a really tight-knit unit. From my point of view, this experience will be of great value, especially at such a huge event, because there will be a lot of distractions. So it’s important to be able to focus and to be able to blindly rely on the person next to you. And we’ll definitely bring that with us.
There is also no question that each individual has top-flag football quality. I hope we can finish this like a puzzle in the end. Everyone has a piece that sets them apart and makes them valuable, but together, if everything fits together, it will make a great picture.
What is your goal for the World Games?
Basically, my personal goal is to do everything I can to get the players to perform at their best. In addition to preparing for the game, there is also a lot of organizational work involved. The players should be able to concentrate fully on the game. Then we have good chances as a team. In such a tournament at the highest level, everything is always possible and mostly depends on smaller factors. We believe in ourselves and we have what it takes to play at the top if everything fits together. If we go home with a medal then, of course, no one will be disappointed!
Who do you think will take the title?
Of course, the USA is the favorite. But at the World Cup in December you could see that the Mexicans came very close and anything can happen in a game. From my point of view, the field is already behind the two. All teams are set up so that on a good day anyone can beat anyone. It will be interesting to see who will be there in which line-up and start the tournament well to build self-confidence.
In other words, the Americans will of course give everything they have to win the title in this first edition on their own country in front of the Olympic Committee in the direction of the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles. Another gold winner wouldn’t surprise me personally, because the difference between the teams just keeps getting smaller. We could have managed the surprise with a slightly different course of play in the 2018 World Cup final. And in 2012 we already beat the Americans in the final at the World Cup. So we’ve shown time and time again that we’re a force to be reckoned with.
Thank you for the interview and good luck at the World Games!