To reach their goal of competing at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympic Games in a potential first flag football competition, the American Football in Israel (AFI) organization developed a five-year plan and is calling on the public to help donate the needed funds.
The intention is for the Israeli squad to be ready and at full strength when the Olympic trials begin. As of now, Israel's adult men's team is ranked 9th in the world and the women are ranked 12th, but only the top eight squads will be able to qualify for the Olympic games.
The donated funds will be invested in the best possible training and coaching for Israel's young flag football players, the AFI explained in their call for donations on Twitter.
This summer, three Israeli national youth teams will compete in the IFAF European Championships for the first time.
There is an ongoing effort to, for the first time, include flag football in the Olympic Games 2028. Last year, the International Federation of American Football (IFAF) and the National Football League (NFL) announced the formation of the "Vision28" group to lead the effort toward flag football's inclusion.
American football in the Holy Land
The AFI is looking to add corporate and private donors, AFI alumni and community efforts to the ongoing support by the Israeli Government Sports Authority and the main supporter of American football in the country, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft.
"We need help to make it happen. We are calling on all who love Israel and football to join our efforts," the AFI said.
In 2017, Kraft donated $6 million to open the Kraft Family Sports Campus in Jerusalem, which Leibowitz said is home to the only regulation-size American football field in the Middle East, plus facilities for soccer, basketball and more.
Players from AFI have gone on to play college ball in the United States, most notably Yonatan Marmour, who in 2021 became the first Israeli to play Division I football. Bet Shemesh coach Charlie Cohen, a yeshiva teacher and salesman who moved to Israel from Massachusetts in 2000, added that some athletes play in Israel during a gap year before trying to make the jump to Division II.
In the early years of football in Israel, Leibowitz said the players were mostly American immigrants or children of immigrants. But now, he says there is mostly “Hebrew in the huddle”: Nearly every team outside Jerusalem is entirely Hebrew-speaking. Some cities have Arab players, plus immigrants from Ethiopia and Russia.
Jacob Gurvis/JTA contributed to this story.