Grow The Game Int'l

A Complete Guide To Lacrosse In The Olympics: Past, Present And Future

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Now that the Olympics are over, and everyone has had a chance to step back and regain their breath, it’s time to have a real discussion about Lacrosse being played in the Olympics. I’ll run through the past, covering the history of the sport in The Games pretty quickly with links, then run through our current situation, then I’ll lay out some of the biggest roadblocks to Lacrosse becoming an Olympic sport! Finally, I’ll get to a silent roadblock that NO ONE seems to be addressing.

Lacrosse’s Olympic Past:

At this point, everyone should know that Lacrosse used to an Olympic sport. In 1904 and 1908 lacrosse was played between two or three teams, and each time Canada took home the gold. It is important to remember that back then, the Olympics also gave out medals for Poetry. Obviously, things changed. In 1928, 1932 and 1948 the sport was played as a demonstration game. The US has been represented by a club or college team, and both Johns Hopkins and RPI have represented the nation.

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Team USA is now Team USA!

Lacrosse’s Current Olympic Status:

Just last year, Lacrosse’s Interational Federation, the FIL (Federation of International Lacrosse), was accepted into Sport Accord, the international sporting body of which every Olympic sport must be a member. The FIL united the men’s and women’s games under one single federation in 2008, and this was a huge step towards Olympic eligibility.

Recent years have also seen an exponential growth of the sport’s popularity, and this is true not only in the US and Canada, but also worldwide. More national teams and notional governing bodies exist now than ever before, and the sport seems well positioned to keep growing. However, lacrosse has not yet reached the levels it needs to if the sport wants to be an Olympic LOCK.

While there are around 45 National teams right now on the men’s side and over 20 on the women’s side, that is just not going to be enough to get it done. Many of these national programs are not recognized by their own national sporting oversight groups, some are quite new, and many currently only offer lacrosse to men. If lacrosse wants to be an Olympic sport, the international push must continue, but the focus needs to be on national recognition, and the involvement of women.

The Olympic Charter is pretty clear in its stated goals for an equal playing field between men and women, especially when it comes to number of sports offered, so if women’s lacrosse is not a compelling partner to men’s lacrosse, the process could be much slower. Women’s Rugby 7s seems to be a bit of an exception here, so there is some flex on this point. However, an effort must be shown, and honestly made.

Overall, there does seem to be a desire, even if it is somewhat limited, from outside of the lacrosse community, for the sport to be included in the Olympics. But for now, this is just good momentum, as the real dirty work still lies ahead.

Lacrosse’s Olympic Future:

Typically, for new team entries, the IOC seems to be looking for sports that can be revenue positive, are played by a large number of nations, adhere to the World Doping Code, and are competitive. They want sports that will shine on the world stage, but won’t cast a shadow over the Games themselves. Soccer is in (but with age requirements), softball is out because the US killed everyone all the time, and Rugby 7s is one of the next sports in because it is fast, popular, can make money and is played well by a good number of countries. (Yes, the US already has a Rugby 7s team, and they are rapidly improving.)

The Olympic Charter says that they can hold no more than 28 sports, and no less than 25. Right now there are 25, but Rugby 7s and Golf join the fray in Rio de Janiero in 2016, so unless some other sport is dropped, lacrosse is left to vye for the only available spot. Sports must also be added before or at the announcement of the next site (although this rule can be waived), so if lacrosse is going to be added to the Olympics, it is unlikely to happen before 2024 or 2028 at the earliest.

However, Lacrosse is getting there on most of the fronts I laid out above, but if there is one glaring issue for the sport right now, it is a lack of parity. There are two top dogs in lacrosse right now, and one of them (the US) is still a bit bigger than the other top dog (Canada). So while there is some parity, the US still dominates. I’ll be honest with you… this is bad for our Olympic hopes.

Now I am NOT arguing that the US shouldn’t be as good as it is at field lacrosse. Not even one bit. But I am saying that if we want to be an Olympic sport, the rest of the world needs to catch up, and quick. Let me tell you right now, the answer is NOT sitting on your butt and saying, “hey World, CATCH UP!” The answer is getting out there and involved, and making it happen. Pretty simple. Find a national program, and find ways to help them out, whether it’s sending gear, fundraising, or going over to volunteer. Want Lacrosse in the Olympics? Put your money where your mouth is. It’s really that simple and has to come from the core of current believers.

For team sports, there is also a 12 nation limit, although that number can be increased at the discretion of the IOC and IF, but for lacrosse, 12 is a great place to start. Yes, it means that only 12 nations get to send lacrosse teams, and that is a small number, but this would also place an additional importance on qualifying in world games, and if anything, this would make the lacrosse community that much stronger. Want to go to the Olympics? Do well at the FIL World Championships. If that’s not a great motivator, I don’t know what is.

Now speaking of doing well at the FIL World Champonships, and then qualifying for the Olympics, it brings up the most unique, and interesting, hurdle for the inclusion, or exclusion, of Lacrosse as an Olmypic sport. It all stems from the history, and the current story of lacrosse, and how this sport simply can not leave that behind.

The Invisible Issue:

Some of you may have noticed that I did not include the Iroquois in my “top of the heap” list along with the US and Canada, even though they certainly belong up there when play on the field is considered. And that is because the Iroquois Lacrosse teams present the greatest opportunity for success, and the greatest opportunity for failure, in this entire Olympic dream.

Olympic Lacrosse without the Iroquois? No thanks.

And yet, for some bizarre reason, NONE of the articles I’ve read so far really touch on this, except for a staff piece from Indian Country Today on the Irqouis U19 team’s success in Finland, which ever so briefly touches on the subject.

If Lacrosse were to be included in the Olympics, it should ONLY be done so with an Iroquois team being eligible to play in the games. The Iroquois would obviously have to qualify like everyone else at the World Championships, but there can be no doubt as to whether or not they would be eligible to compete as a nation in the Games. If the Iroquois can’t compete in Olympic Lacrosse, there shouldn’t be Olympic Lacrosse.

There is a great level of argument and misunderstanding when it comes to Native nations’ sovereign status. Look no further than this Yahoo discussion on why the Iroquois don’t have their own Olympic teams for proof of the ignorance. From a “legal” stand, there are numerous treaties out there (and that doesn’t even get in to the cultural and identity issues) that validate the Iroquois’ sovereign status as a nation, and they can once again successfully issue, and travel on, their own passports.

Here is an except from the Iroquois Nationals website:

The Iroquois name for themselves is ‘Haudenosaunee’ which means “People of the Longhouse”. The longhouse symbolizes a way of life where the Six Nations Confederacy live under one common law, think with one mind and speak with one voice. That law is called “Gien na sah nah gonah” the Great Law of Peace. The alliance of the Haudenosaunee created the first United Nations in this land, thus we maintain the oldest, continuously operating form of government in North America. We have lived in northeastern North America for thousands of years. The people of the Six Nations currently residing in New York and Canada remain sovereign and independent. The Iroquois people identify themselves as citizens of their respective nation and travel internationally under their own passports.

For me, this is more than enough for them to compete at the Olympics, but as usual, it’s not always that simple. The IOC wants each nation to have a National Olympic Committee, and currently there are 204 of these worldwide. Currently, the Iroquois are not one of those 204 nations. So in order for the Iroquois to be included, should lacrosse ever make it to the games, an NOC really should be set up within the nation. That seems entirely possible at first glance. Of course, then we get to the next potential problem.

NOCs are supposed to be made up of both men’s and women’s teams and athletes, and while the Iroquois do have a women’s national team, playing under the name Haudenosaunee, I worry that the women’s game will not grow as quickly as it could, and that this could negatively impact the chances for an Iroquois NOC. I have certainly heard that there is movement to get more girls playing the game, but I believe this needs to remain a point of continued focus.

(EN: Portions of the above paragraph have been updated with correct information. Thanks to Italialax77 for keeping us honest and accurate!)

A smaller focus on women’s sports could make an NOC acceptance less likely. And if your country has no NOC, the chances of your teams competing can drop without extenuating circumstances. In order to be assured of participation, an Iroquois NOC is a potentially good route, and I think it could add to the growth of women’s lacrosse, and overall sports participation, greatly.

The Olympics are a huge stage, and to bring Lacrosse to that stage, WITH the originators of the game; the ones who gifted it to the rest of us, would be a true achievement for the entire community. Arriving on the Olympic stage would validate the sport for many, but for the Iroquois, it could be something so much bigger.

It would be their chance to stand shoulder to shoulder with other nations, and finally be counted as an equal, which they have deserved since the Olympic inception, and long before that… and they would be doing it on their terms, and through their sport.

We often talk about Growing The Game, and doing so in the “right” way, but that can be hard to define sometimes. Now is not one of those times.

The Hopeful Path:

We (the world) play the Iroquois longstick game, and our collective Olympic dream for Lacrosse must therefore include the Iroquois’ dream at its deepest core. While the biggest challenges out there for many people are increasing parity and popularity, the real challenge is much more complex:

Can we successfully thrust our game onto the world stage, while honoring and supporting those who gave us the gift in the first place?

About the author

Connor Wilson

Connor is the Publisher of LacrosseAllStars.com. He lives in Brooklyn with his better half, continues to play and coach both box and field lacrosse in NYC as much as possible, and covers the great game that is lacrosse full-time. He spends his spare time stringing sticks and watching Futurama.

18 Comments

  • In regards to the Iroquois, there was an athlete at this years games who flew under the Olympic flag because he had no home country.

    So the “loophole” (not a great term, but I digress), is already in place for the Iroquois to at least fly under the Olympic banner, if not their own (obviously the latter being far more desirable).

  • This is a great point, Derek. It is certainly an option, and why I said that an Iroquois NOC is a good option. I should have specified it is not the only option! Thanks for this comment. It’s insightful and fantastic. I should have been more clear there…

    So this is certainly worthy of more discussion!

    My main contention is that if the Iroquois will play, they should be able to walk under their own flag and play for their nation. In 2010, the Iroquois turned down going to England because they couldn’t use their own passports. It was a political statement. I’m curious if they would abandon that statement for the size of the stage. My gut says unless the Iroquois could play as Iroquois officially, it wouldn’t happen. But that is only a feeling based on the past.

    Definitely a question and topic worth addressing further.

  • As a member of APL (Association for Portuguese Lacrosse), I have to say that it’s difficult for us to promote Lacrosse, we don’t have enough money and enough gear to take Lacrosse to schools and make it more popular. We have a lot of work to do world wide if we want to see Lacrosse in the Olympics.

  • As a member of APL (Association for Portuguese Lacrosse), I have to say that it’s difficult for us to promote Lacrosse, we don’t have enough money and enough gear to take Lacrosse to schools and make it more popular. We have a lot of work to do world wide if we want to see Lacrosse in the Olympics.

  • Do you have any contact with the national sporting body in Portugal? Or the government? Do you receive any type of assistance or support?

    What about from the US? Have you done any outreach to US players of Portugese descent?

    Maybe we can help you promote and spread the sport and Grow The Game in Portugal. It would be our pleasure!

  • Two questions: 1. I thought the Iroquois did have a women’s team? I was in Prague for the Women’s World Games in Prague (’09) and there was a Haudenosaunee team competing there. Do they no longer have a team? 2. If the Iroquois make the effort to establish a NOC and are not allowed to, I completely agree that lacrosse should not be an Olympic sport. However, if there is no effort made to establish their own NOC, or setup what is necessary to try and get a NOC, then could they compete as an Independent ( I think there were 3 athletes in London competing as such) and wear their colors? I realize that the Iroquois are the reason why any of us have lacrosse but if they cannot or do not take the steps to get a NOC/ into the Olympics then it is essentially the same idea as only having 12 nations competing out of the 45 that currently exist? Those 12 (or whatever number it will be) did what it took to get to the Olympics and that includes administrative organization and on-field performance. Just my thoughts.

  • two answers: 1) you are right and I have fixed the post. Thank YOU for chiming in and letting me know where I got it wrong. It is truly appreciated. Can’t believe I missed that. Thanks again!

    As for 2) GREAT question! See below for an interchange between Derek Blasutti and I and chime in with your thoughts. Super interested by that rabbit hole.

  • Also, I think a big factor not is cost. A country may be able to get a team together, and an internal league but until lacrosse is adopted by each countries’ IOC, and funded by the countries’ IOC then it would be almost impossible for some countries to compete. There are countries out there that can barely afford to play in FIL events that currently are on a much smaller scale than the Olympics (even though we hold them to be just as important as the Olympics). I realize your call to action calls for help fundraising but truth be told as I am looking into it for our team for World’s it is not an easy task and for some countries fundraising will be easier than others. I speak for myself only and not the team I play for but I would think it would be very hard as things are currently to get countries to the Olympics just based on costs. However I suppose that the top 12 in the FIL are usually better funded than the rest of the 30ish teams at least in general. I just know what a tough time we have cost wise and I am sure we are not the only ones. We just gotta keep growing the sport and maybe it will come!

  • cost is a HUGE factor! So if people in the US (the biggest lacrosse playing country) want to see the sport in the Olympics, they NEED to get involved outside of our borders.

  • In regards to you saying that the USA and Canada would dominate, but mostly the USA, that reminds me of basketball. The women won 5 straight golds I believe and it’s so predictable, and the same for the mens. In 1992, the competition was nothing for the mens basketball team and even though it’s 2012, the competition has gotten better the USA still dominates in basketball. My point is even if we start lacrosse in the Olympics, theres a chance we would always be the dominant team, (Or even Canada or the Iroquois national team). Lacrosse could be much like basketball where it starts out basically a two or three dominant team type of sport then you give it 20 years and it could be very popular worldwide. This sport I believe will be in 2024 at the latest because there have been many national teams being made as you have said. I don’t think it will take 20 more years to grow the game in order for it to become even competition though. You made really good points in your blog. Keep it up!

  • One more topic to mention: England, Scotland and Wales will have to put team Great Britain together in order to take part in the Olympics. Same issue as in football, so if it works there it will work in lacrosse, too.
    But seeing this from outside without deeper knowledge of lacrosse history and the Iroquois cultural heritage (and these people will decide about the inclusion of lacrosse to the Games) this will be in the contrary to the effort of involving independent Iroquios team: “If Scotsmen can give up representing their nation and can represent their country/state why Iroquois cannot.” And from the other side “If we allow Iroquois to represent their nation, not state, we will have to allow other nations represent themselves (Scotmen, Australian Aboriginals…)”. This will be hard to disprove.
    Just pointing this out… It would be great to see lacrosse at the Olympics and it would not be complete without Iroquois.

  • Great point! From the GB example, it seems as if precedent has been set for nations to give up their own their own flag in favor of another one, but I doubt that many Iroquois players would want to play in the Olympics with USA across their chests… I could be wrong there. 

    Sovereign status is a very real issue. More so than in Scotland or N. Ireland? I could not even begin to say… so this makes me think that each situation must be addressed individually… but you raise an amazing point. Thanks!

  • Iroquois would not be able to play in the Olympics. IOC states that any nation competing has to be a member of the UN. Their was a Southern Sudan athlete that had to compete under the flag of the Olympics.

    I totally agree with some of the people commenting on this thread, Team GB compete as one nation, why cant Iroquois/USA or Iroquois/Canada? Yes they created the game and if our sport is ever a Olympic sport we need to ensure that the Iroquois heritage is highlighted i.e. Tobacco Burning Ceremony etc.. But they should put aside their sovereignty issues and compete and show the world how Lacrosse should really be played.The wider issue is the RULES. The IOC wont look at a sport which is basically two separate games (men’s and women’s) we would have to see wide scale reforms in the womens game in order for our sport to even enter the radar screens of the selecting committee.My third point is selection by each participant nations olympic association. Why would (and I am not being harsh here) Latvia spend thousands on sending a team to the olympics with no chance of a medal of any colour? Lacrosse is an expensive sport to fund you have 23 guys plus a coaching staff of ~8 and then equipment for one medal. Then you have sports like Swimming or Track and Field where you have a chance of winning multiple medals with a couple of athletes.We need to start getting realistic, I would love to represent my nation at an Olympic Games but we are a LONG way off.

  • As far as I can tell, your contention that you must be a UN member to be in the IOC is, and has been, false. In 2010, the UN has 195 member nations, and the IOC had 205.
    http://www.sportsbusinessdaily.com/Journal/Issues/2010/04/20100405/Opinion/UN-Role-Offers-IOC-Chance-To-Place-Sport-Amid-Global-Priorities.aspxThere is no requirement to be a member of the UN, although the two bodies do work more closely together now.

    I also don’t believe the argument flies that “Hey, GB does it, so should the Iroquois!” They are two different situations, and using one as the sole basis for the other conflates the issue.

    As for rules needing the be the exact same for men and women… ALSO false! Gymanstics, and diving both immediately jump out as having different rules, and if you look at the men’s soccer rules, they can only have three players over 23 on their team. Different rules again. And in basketball, the women use a smaller ball.

    The last of your points, about cost being prohibitive was really good, but your first three points all seem to be pretty false, and easily proven to be so.

    Would love to see a response or some citation of where you found this info!
    Thanks for commenting!

  • Thanks for reading!
    I don’t think it would be a bad thing to have dominant countries playing a sport, but I do think the IOC would look more favorably on lacrosse if it weren’t just the US, US, US, US, US, US, Canada, US, US, US, US, US… you know what I mean?

  • Point 1:

    I used the South Sudan as a example because Sudan don’t have an Olympic Committee and was at the time still not officially recognised by the UN when he tried to enter the olympics, Hence the athlete could not compete for South Sudan so had to compete under the Olympic Flag. Check it out. 

    Its a massively wider debate about the Iroquois Confederacy as a sovereign nation, and very messy one at that. Tribal sovereignty in the United State and Canada is a big issue with Indigenous people. Would the IOC want to get into that mess politically? But I am in total agreement the Iroquois should apply for recognition and the wider Lacrosse community and the FIL should assist their case should we ever be accepted.However to be apply for recognition you must be a part of the Olympic Movement you need to be accepted into the OM before you can set up an Olympic Committee (The reason I used South Sudan as an example as you can use the UN membership instead).

    Point 2/Point 3

    Your points about Gymnastics and Basketball are correct, but they are still largely the same sport (Visually). The rules on the whole are the same. I was thinking more down the lines of Field Hockey as an example.

    Lacrosse on the whole has two separate sets of rules? Same goals and ball, but the game still differs greatly as outsider looking in.

    Now, I am in total agreement, what would you rather watch Equestrian Dressage or Lacrosse? – no brainer.

    Joe Bloggs from Bogota is going to be asking allot of questions when he sees the differences in our sport, hence that’s why the IOC  has criteria in place to select sports which will be well received by the general public, all over the globe. (Section 26 Olympic Charter) Ive had that chat with FIL board members in the past.

    Please don’t read this and think that I am anti-olympics, because I am not. I am just realistic and frustrated that our sport has almost been split down the middle in the past, where the men’s game has evolved now the womens game (internationally) is playing catch-up. They still play with with out dated rules and regulations which were in the mens rule book in the 60’s and 70’s. 

    Thankfully we now have the FIL a unified organisation. And we are taking steps toward becoming an olympic sport we are now part of the SportAccord and we are due to have a place at the 2017 World Games in Poland so lets hope!.

  • Lol Very good point. I really hope the Iroquois national team can attend the Olympics whenever lacrosse hits the them. Maybe we’ll get lucky and the Olympics will be held in the Washington DC area in 2024 so then passports wouldn’t be needed for some of them. 

  • First one through the wall always bloodiest, it gotta start somewhere.. I’m sure if we look carefully at other Olympic sports. There are probably a few that 1 or 2 nations dominate it for several Olympic in the beginning..

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