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Canadian league targets China touchdown, global gains

By MURRAY GREIG | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2020-03-31 09:04

In what resembles something out of an "all-world" playbook, China's aspiring American football players could get a distinctly Canadian boost in the months ahead.

The Canadian Football League is interested in having China become the 15th nation to join its ambitious globalization plan. The CFL plays essentially the same game as the NFL, bar a few notable differences-a longer and wider field, three downs instead of four, and 12 starters instead of 11.

Ahead of last week's cross-Canada media tour by CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie, a source at league headquarters in Toronto confirmed that the nine-team pro league is exploring the possibility of staging player evaluation camps in Beijing and Shanghai later this year as a prelude to a partnership to accelerate gridiron's growth on the Chinese mainland.

"The CFL is definitely interested in establishing a presence in China and exploring the possibility of eventually being able to draft players from Chinese universities or amateur leagues," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the league has not yet announced the initiative.

Following an unsuccessful six-team expansion into the United States during the mid-1990s, the CFL refocused internationally in the fall of 2018 when Ambrosie brokered a player development partnership with the Professional American Football League of Mexico (LFA).

In January 2019 the CFL held a draft of LFA and Mexican university players, and the following month players from leagues in Germany and France participated in the CFL national combine.

Two months ago, the CFL expanded its global alliance system to 14 nations with the addition of Japan's X-League, generally regarded as the world's third-best pro circuit after the NFL and CFL.

That move coincided with the CFL announcing that this year's global combine will include two designated active-roster international players and three practice-squad international players, adding as many as 45 global players to the league.

The global combine was originally slated to take place on April 16 but will now coincide with the opening of training camps in mid May due to concerns regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.

All the top global prospects will be invited to Toronto to showcase their skills.

"In conversations with team presidents and general managers, there was some concern about not being able to meet and scout the incoming group of global players in person after we were forced to cancel the national combine," said Ambrosie.

"Our global combine tour was an incredible tool to travel overseas to meet these young men and perform evaluations. In working with our international partners, we have also been able to collect a wealth of film, data and statistics.

"However, seeing these players up close is an important step in establishing a fit with any team. If we cannot confidently prepare an environment where these global players are entering the most ideal situations to make the best use of their unique skill sets, we are doing them a disservice. We owe it to them to do this right.

"The rescheduled global combine and draft in Toronto will provide international players with equal footing to showcase their talents in person, while offering teams a joint platform for fair evaluation.

"We can't wait to welcome them to Canada and we look forward to having them join our CFL family."

News of the CFL's interest in China comes on the heels of the cancellation of a February promotional visit to Beijing and Shanghai by the NFL's Los Angeles Rams due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Rams defensive back Taylor Rapp, whose mother was born in Shanghai and whose father hails from Canada, last season became the first Chinese-Canadian to play in the NFL after being selected in the second round of the 2019 draft.

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