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TORONTO – Japan is the latest country to join the Canadian Football League in what has rapidly become a global movement to grow the game of gridiron football.
“We are proud to join our friends in the CFL in a partnership designed to strengthen our game here in Japan, Canada and, ultimately, around the world,” said Riichiro Fukahori, commissioner of Japan’s National Football Association (NFA).
The NFA is the eleventh leading federation or league from around the world to partner with the Canadian Football League in the past 11 months.
The CFL had already reached similar agreements with gridiron football organizations in Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Norway, Sweden and Great Britain.
“We welcome Japan, one of the great sporting nations in the world and a country that has been playing gridiron football for decades,” said CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie, who has spearheaded the movement.
“We have agreed to work together to grow the great game of gridiron football in our two countries. And with this partnership comes an opportunity to work with others around the world who share our vision and goals.”
There are currently 442 teams throughout Japan registered with the country’s national association, including 206 college teams and 111 high schools.
The top tier in the country is the X-League, which has 53 teams. All of the players are amateurs and belong to either club teams, which are supported by sponsors, or company teams, which are owned and operated by a business and feature employees of that business as players.
There has been a trend towards club teams in recent years. The Fujitsu Frontiers, who won the first ever X-League title in 2014, are one of the few remaining company teams.
Since 2001, the X-League has allowed foreign players, but limits them to two on each side of the ball. Professional players who played in specific organizations such as the NFL etc. are barred but several foreign players in Japan hail from NCAA programs.
Japan’s national championship, which pits the X-League champions against the country’s collegiate champions, is known as the Rice Bowl. Played each January 3, it draws up to 30,000 spectators.
Football leaders from Japan and the CFL’s other ten international partners are expected to attend Canada’s national championship, the 107th Grey Cup presented by Shaw, this November in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
This year, for the first time, the Canadian Football League has featured players from outside the U.S. or Canada on CFL rosters and designated them as “global players”, part of a strategy to make the CFL a more global league.
At the same time, it is working to create pathways for more Canadian players to find opportunities to play in Mexico and overseas.
“There is, quite literally, a world of gridiron football being played beyond North America, and a world of opportunity for our sport if we work and build and grow together,” Ambrosie said.
“We are thrilled Japan’s National Football Association, and its X-League, are joining us in building bridges that connect the countries that love our game and want to see it grow.”