Mark Masters of The National Post had a great piece the other day on former Western Mustangs coach Larry Haylor (pictured at right in 1998 when he was awarded the Frank Tindall Trophy as the CIS coach of the year), who's now working with an absolute who's-who of CIS coaching legends to develop a largely CIS-based team that's hoping to be the first Canadian entry in the International Federation of American Football (IFAF) World Cup. Towards that end, Haylor (who's a candidate for the Canadian Football Hall of Fame next year) and company held tryouts across the country (in Guelph, Moncton and Saskatchewan) over the last month, which were attended by more than 150 players. From that pool, comprised mostly of current and recently-graduated CIS players (plus any other participants Haylor snaps up during E-Camp this weekend), they're going to select 45 players to take to the championships in Austria this July. In addition to the Austrians and Canadians, there will also be teams there from Australia, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico and the United States.
This is a pretty cool initiative, and it's one that could help raise awareness of both Canadian football as a whole and the CIS product in particular. The tournament has been held every four years since 1999, and it got a particular boost in recognition the last time around when the U.S. fielded a team. The Americans came home with the 2007 title after the tournament in Japan, but they didn't have an easy time of it, needing double overtime to knock off the hosts 23-20 in the final. They'll obviously be favoured again this year, considering the sheer numbers of American players and the incredible American football infrastructure out there (plus the American rules this goes by), but this tournament shows that other countries also love the gridiron game and have plenty of talent of their own.
Moreover, this could be a valuable tool for building the Canadian game. The coaching staff Haylor's put together is incredible, featuring reigning Vanier Cup champion Glen Constantin of the Laval Rouge et Or as the defensive coordinator and the man he defeated in 2008, Western Mustangs head coach (and former Hamilton Tiger-Cats' boss) Greg Marshall as the offensive coordinator. 2010 Vanier runner-up Blake Nill from the Calgary Dinos will be coaching the linebackers, while Saskatchewan's Brian Towriss will handle special teams and running backs, Acadia's Jeff Cummins will work with the defensive line and Saint Mary's Steve Sumarah will coach the quarterbacks and receivers. They're planning to take a mix of players who still have CIS eligibility and those who have recently graduated, and working with a coaching staff of that calibre will undoubtedly help build some of those prospects up towards future success at the CIS and CFL levels. Furthermore, the coaches and players will undoubtedly get to make good contacts with their counterparts in other countries, and that could lead to future international players heading to Canada to play university or professional football.
The tournament obviously isn't all that widely known here yet, as it's only been held three times and Canada's never sent a team. That's made it difficult for Football Canada to raise funding for it. Here's what Football Canada director of sport Rick Sowieta told Masters:
Rick Sowieta, Football Canada's director of sport, believes getting the Americans involved marked a major step forward. However, he admits that even with the United States competing it is difficult to get Canadians to see the world championship as a significant event.
"Obviously people know football is popular in North America, but when you tell them that Japan has more than 100 universities that play football they are surprised," said Sowieta. "Awareness has been a huge challenge and as a result it has been harder to secure funding."
Sowieta thinks it will take about $250,000 to get the team to the event. Football is not an Olympic sport, which means Sport Canada, an agency of the federal government, will not offer up funding for international events. Football Canada is hoping to get some support from the CFL and universities around the country.
"We're working to educate people at every level," said Sowieta. "Even some university coaches don't, at first, grasp how big this is, but they're starting to come around and we're hoping the athletic directors and alumni will embrace this as well."
In my mind, it would be great to see this team get the funding they need to be able to represent Canada this year and in years to come. Even with the current limited size of the event, sending a Canadian team would be well worth it to help promote our country's brand of football abroad. There's a tremendous amount of interest in football around the world, and getting the CFL and CIS increased international exposure can only be a good thing. What's even more promising is that this has the potential to really take off, though. Football won't be an Olympic sport any time soon thanks to the U.S.'s dominance and the largely undeveloped state of the game in many other countries (as well as the even more limited state of the women's game), but who can say where it will be in 40 or 50 years? Even if football never makes the Olympics, a strong world championships would serve as a great advertisement for the game, and it might turn into a prestigious title of its own; in hockey, the IIHF's world juniors, world championships and World Cup of Hockey have all proven pretty successful over the years, so who's to say that something similar couldn't happen in football? Canada's got the opportunity to get in on the ground floor thanks to Haylor and company, and in my mind, that's an opportunity we should absolutely take.