Tommy Wiking is the president of the International Federation of American Football. The 44-year-old Gothenburg, Sweden, resident has been fascinated by the sport since 1988, when he saw an NFL exhibition game. After organizing teams in college, he got involved in the sport in Europe and moved through the ranks of IFAF. The Federation unites 64 countries on six continents, all of which have national federations dedicated to the sport, including USA Football.
Last week, the International Olympic Committee granted the IFAF provisional IOC recognition during its meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland. This was a significant step for American football’s effort to become an Olympic sport. Football might be up for a vote as early as 2017. If approved, it would join the Summer Olympics lineup in 2024.
On Tuesday, Wiking talked to NFL Evolution contributing editor Bill Bradley about his career, the IFAF and the efforts to make football an Olympic sport.
QUESTION: How did you become interested in American Football?
WIKING: The first time I saw it, I was a little boy. And when I saw it the next time (as a teenager) I decided that I had to understand the game. I wanted to know why so many people thought it was a great game. That’s how it started. Then I founded a team at my university.
Q: How did you get involved with the International Federation?
W: I became president of the Swedish federation in 2000 and I got involved in the European federation in 2001. While I was doing that, I was involved in the competitions (in Europe). Then in 2006 when the former president resigned, IFAF thought I did a good job, so they wanted me to be the president. I was I charge of the world championships and European championships for a couple of years leading up to that.
Q: Is this a dream job for you?
W: It really isn’t a job. I have another job, which pays the bills. But it is very fun, yes.
Q: What is your full-time job?
W: I work at the one of the largest store chains that sell food (in Sweden), like a WalMart.
Q: What made you and IFAF take up to the effort to make American football an Olympic sport?
W: I like to build things. I like to see how things can develop and what you can achieve from basically nothing. IFAF was founded in 1998 and there was nothing at that point. And that’s the challenge. Of course, I like football — I love football. And I’m a (San Diego) Chargers fan, and you know what that means. It means that you are tested and you really, really have to be a fanatic to be a Chargers fan.
Q: What are the hurdles you face in getting American football to an IOC vote?
W: I think one of the major hurdles is to get all of the Americans to understand that we are trying to get the game into the Olympics. That it would actually pay off for the USA. There are too many Americans who think that football is not played outside the USA and if it was “we would beat all of you.” That is not entirely correct. We have 64 nations playing football at a competitive level.
Q: What is the perception of American football with the IOC?
W: It’s a sport that is growing extremely quick. We have gone from nothing in my age to 64 countries playing it. We’ve grown by 22 members to 64 in six years. And we have 10-15 countries on the way in. (The IOC) sees the sport as a popular sport that is growing at a rapid rate. …
Q: When the story first broke, there were some media reports that said the IOC likely would approve a seven-on-seven version of the game. Is that true?
W: That has never been discussed.
Q: Then you’re looking at a full 11-on-11 proposal with a 100-yard field?
W: We haven’t discussed that, either. I haven’t discussed that with anyone from the IOC. And if we were going into those discussions, I would assume that our first option would be to go with the 11-on-11 version. But if the IOC tells us they want 7-on-7, we will discuss it, but that hasn’t been decided yet.
Q: The NFL has talked about placing a franchise in London. Would that help your efforts?
W: Yes. Anything that would increase international exposure would be good for us because that means that there is an increase in interest in football. It’s been growing in the (United Kingdom) … We have seen more kids playing football and more fans following it. … It certainly would help if there was what you might call a local team.
Q: What else would you like to see as the IFAF pushes to get American football in the Olympics?
W: I would love to have more support from the USA. It pains when you’re trying to develop your game and trying to gain acceptance and get so much trouble getting the Americans to accept the idea (of football in the Olympics).
Q: Do you sense there are Americans who don’t want the sport in the Olympics?
W: I don’t know if it’s a “want” thing. Too many people don’t have enough knowledge that the game is played outside the USA and for the good it does. If everyone would embrace the idea, it would do a lot of good for the game to be spread internationally to other countries. That would help a lot.