The International Olympic Committee [IOC] approved flag football for the 2028 Olympics this month and the Wairarapa flag football community couldn’t be happier.
Anthony Stevens, who has been coaching flag football in Masterton since March, is “absolutely stoked”.
He comes well qualified to coach this increasingly popular game, playing at elite-level himself for several years.
He plays centre position in New Zealand’s national team, NZ Mako, and will soon head to Malaysia for the International Federation of American Football’s (IFAF) first-ever Asia Oceania Flag Football Championships.
Flag football is a fast-paced, non-contact form of American football.
Tackling is not allowed in the sport – instead, flags are attached to the ball carrier’s belt – one flag on each side of the waist. When someone manages to pull off the flag of an opponent, the game stops and the next play begins.
For Stevens, there is a lot to like about the sport.
“The appeal for me personally is you keep all the big plays from American football, but you take away the unnecessary contact and the injuries.
“It’s all the skill positions, like quarterbacks, the wide receivers.
“And you’re just making big throws, big catches. It’s a lot faster than football and it’s a lot easier to play. You also lose all that equipment, so there’s no cost to it.”
Rowena Emery’s son, Theo  “adores it”, she said. “He even gave his school speech on the subject and got teachers interested in ‘flag’,” she said.
Brodie  is also a fan and he’s pleased to see the sport make it into the Olympics.
“I think it’s great. I think people will love it. It’s a great sport and, hopefully, is a success.”
Stevens credits Emery with helping grow interest in the sport locally.
“I couldn’t have done it without her,” he said.
Stevens met Emery and Theo at a training session in Wellington, which at the time was the nearest place to find flag football coaching.
“We just had a chat and thought it would be good to organise something over here, so we wouldn’t have to travel.
“Rowena did a really good job reaching out to Theo’s friends at school and then we were able to generate a small amount of interest.”
Stevens hosts training every Sunday 1pm-3pm at Masterton Intermediate School [MIS].
While many players showing up tend to be about 11 and 12 years old, Stevens is keen to stress the game is accessible to everyone.
“It’s not just for young people. I’ve always tried to make it available for everyone, so very inclusive. So all ages, all genders. All abilities.”
Stevens’ goal is to continue to grow the sport in Wairarapa.
“I’d love for us to have a men’s team, a woman’s team, some youth teams and junior teams.”
- For more information visit www.facebook.com/flagfootballwairarapa