HAMILTON — Pierre Trochet was a very interested spectator at Tim Hortons Field on Friday night.
The head of business operations and international relationships for the French American Football Federation watched Hamilton’s 42-12 home win over Edmonton. After meetings with CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie in Toronto last week, Trochet took in his first-ever CFL contest, which featured two former French federation players in Tiger-Cats defensive end Valentin Gnahoua and Eskimos linebacker Maxime Rouyer.
Gnahoua and Rouyer went first and fourth overall, respectively, in last spring’s inaugural CFL European draft. It’s all part of commissioner Randy Ambrosie’s CFL 2.0 initiative, establishing partnerships with football organizations abroad to grow the game globally.
This season, for the first time ever, the CFL added one spot on active rosters and up to two on practice rosters for Global players — those from outside of Canada and the U.S. In 2020, that number will increase to two on the active roster and up to three on the practice roster.
Gnahoua and Rouyer are among four French-born players on CFL active rosters. The others include B.C. Lions receiver Benjamin Plu and Montreal Alouettes kicker Boris Bede.
Asnnel Robo, a French-born running back who played collegiately at the University of Montreal, is on the Calgary Stampeders practice roster.
“I assume we’re the biggest nation (in CFL 2.0) on the active roster,” Trochet said. “It’s pretty good for a small football country.”
Mexico was just ahead of France with five players on CFL opening-day active rosters.
The French Federation plays American football. But the six-foot-two, 235-pound Gnahoua and six-foot-one, 225-pound Rouyer both came to the CFL acclimated with the Canadian game, having both played previously at Montreal’s McGill University.
“Definitely I’m feeling very lucky,” Gnahoua said. “This was my dream to come play in the CFL.
“Every day I receive a message from another player in France (saying), ‘I’m proud of you, keep going, that you represent the French people.’ I’m not the leader but I want to do the (right) thing here for the next generation.”
On Friday, the league and French federation announced they’ll hold a combine for the top-20 players in Paris on Jan. 17, 2020. The two sides also discussed extending sponsorships, content, broadcast, marketing and licensing as well as how to market the five French CFL players.
The Paris combine will be one of a series planned for Europe, Mexico and other regions.
Trochet, himself a former football player, is hopeful the CFL will play a game on French soil by 2023. Paris will host the 2024 Summer Olympics.
“(In France), soccer is the tradition, football would be the revolution,” Trochet said. “The Montreal Alouettes are a very, very big market in France, it just had to be harvested.
“Ottawa draws some attention (due to proximity to Quebec) but this project has helped now to draw attention to other teams. It (CFL partnership) has helped us bring attention to football in France.”
NFL Europe operated overseas from 1991-2007 but never had a franchise in France. Trochet said the relationship with the CFL is definitely a partnership.
“Commissioner Ambrosie was different from Day 1,” Trochet said. “It was about talking, it was about understanding each other, it was about learning from each other.”
“We’re still a minor sport because we’re not professional. Now that the CFL has given us the opportunity to exist outside of the shadow is tremendous … now we can build.”