A major topic of discussion out in Denver was Olympic Lacrosse. It was talked about at FIL meetings, by players, coaches, and fans, and it was brought up on several of the ESPN family-of-channels broadcast. It’s a flash point of conversation, but also one that can be murky, confusing, and incredibly drawn out.
All of this confusion surrounding Olympic Lacrosse can lead to people getting way ahead of themselves, and the sport. And beyond the obvious issues, there are some lesser known hurdles, and this post will talk about both as well as the growing Iroquois issue, so that the community has a better sense of our sport’s true Olympic position at this moment in time.
Olympic Lacrosse – The Basics
The current path that lacrosse must take to become an Olympic event involves an application for recognition of the sport (currently due in the fall of 2014, with a one year review period), and then a second application for consideration of inclusion. The recognition part is relatively easy, but nothing is guaranteed. At best, that could be done in about 14 months. Like I said, relatively easy. The second part, which requests actual inclusion in the Games, is a more rocky road, with a much longer timeframe.
The Olympics have a cap on the number of sports that can be played at any event, and over 200 countries are eligible to compete in the games. In 2012, there were 26 sports in the Summer Olympics, and 7 in the Winter Olympics. The Winter version has more disciplines within the 7 major sports, so it seems like there are many more than just 7, but that is how it is organized by the IOC. In 2016, there will be 28 sports for the Summer games, but lacrosse will not be considered for inclusion by then, seeing as the sport could only be recognized by the IOC as early as 2015.
Field Lacrosse, like many other sports, is looking to join this 28 sport number in the Summer Olympics at some point in the not so distant future. It is a hotly contested spot, and other “fringe” sports, much like lacrosse, have impressive resumés. Even if the application process goes as smoothly as possible, it is impossible to say if our sport will be selected for 2024, or 2028. Due to the lengthy approval process, these dates seem to the earliest dates possible. Sports must be announced as Olympic Sports at least seven years prior to games being played, and that’s just one rule. So even if lacrosse is recognized in 2015, and then approved for inclusion immediately, 2024 would be the absolute earliest, and with no hiccups. Trust me, it will be a LONG process no matter what.
Lacrosse was played in the Olympics in the past (1904 & 1908), and saw time as a demonstration sport (1928, 1932, 1948), but since the 1940s there has been little to no inclusion of the sport on an official level.
Potential Issues For Olympic Inclusion
– Higher Participation Needed – One of the major issues for lacrosse is that it is not truly a world game yet , and that is a bone for the IOC. While the FIL WLC this Summer showed off a LOT of great growth, we are nowhere near where we need to be for serious Olympic consideration. That being said, this can change quickly. The emergence of lacrosse in South America and Africa will do wonders for the number of nations that play, as well as the reach of the sport. This growth trend must continue if lacrosse is to become a true part of the Olympics. But right now, we have 50 countries in the FIL, and the IOC has 200 nations. 25% of nations playing a game needs to get higher. Above 50% seems compelling, but that means 50 MORE nations need to pick up sticks, and pretty quickly.
– Some Countries That Play, Couldn’t Play – I will leave the issue of the Iroquois’ participation to a point all its own, as their situation is somewhat unique in all of this, but they are not the only nation at risk of being cut out. England, Scotland, and Wales do not play as England, Scotland, or Wales in The Olympics. They compete for Great Britain. There are three teams right there that would have to be combined into one. On the flip side of this, countries like Hong Kong and Bermuda are recognized, and so is a potential expansion candidate like Puerto Rico.
The basic rule nowadays is that your nation must be recognized by the United Nations in order to have an approved National Olympic Committee, which is then recognized by the IOC. For countries like England, Scotland or Wales, they would need a larger sport movement within their country if they wanted to play independently from Great Britain. This issue has come up in soccer before, but it did not change in the smaller nations’ favor.
– Lacrosse Needs A Single Field – For The Olympics, men and women can not play the same sport on different fields. Soccer, field hockey, basketball courts, etc… they all need to be the same for men and women. Right now, this seems like a massive issue, but it is actually one of the areas where there should be a lot of hope. The FIL has already established a unified field, and it has even been tested out in Turkey already. Solid foresight right there! It may require some changes, but if it can be done, it shows the sport’s ability to come together, and that is certainly in The Olympic Spirit of legend.
– Is Field or Box Lacrosse The Answer? – There are some people out there who wonder if box lacrosse, and not field, is actually The Olympic answer, and I think it’s a fair question! What do the Winter Olympics lack right now? Solid team sports! Hockey is great, but beyond that… there just isn’t a whole lot of traditional “team” stuff going down. So could box lacrosse, a “winter” sport in the professional ranks, become something of interest to the Olympic Committee?
Perhaps, but a mountain of work would have to be done first. First off, only 11 nations are “IN” for the 2015 World Indoor Lacrosse Championships. This number could grow, but as a point of reference there were 11 countries plaiting field the last time the US hosted the WLCs… and that was in 1998. The other big issue for box is that only about 2,000 women play box worldwide, and 1,993 of them are in Canada. Without a women’s component, I am doubtful that the FIL or IOC will look to box lacrosse as a potential candidate. Want to see this change? Go grow the game in other countries for a decade and get more women to play. Then we can talk about Olympic box lacrosse, but right now, it’s very far off in any realistic sense.
The Iroquois And Olympic Lacrosse
Ok, here’s the part of the post that is going to get kind of crazy, so prepare yourself.
Currently, there is a National Olympic Committee for Native Americans, but it is not recognized by the IOC. Why is this? Because in 1996, the IOC started to only recognize UN approved nations’ NOCs. Since Native Americans are not recognized by the UN as a truly sovereign nation, their NOC can not be recognized by the IOC.
A positive step towards Native American recognition is the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which was adopted by the UN in 2007. This is not a legal document, but it does state that the UN and its member nations should be acting and working in a certain way to recognize indigenous groups, and to keep them from being marginalized. Part of this has to do with their varied political agendas.
From the 2010 WLC Iroquois controversy we learned that the Iroquois will not travel on US or Canadian passports, nor will they play for those nations. Their political agenda is to be recognized as a sovereign nation, and to use lacrosse, if need be, to get their point across and effect change.
Now it seems to me that if the UN declaration holds any water, Native Americans could indeed receive recognition from the United Nations. And if they can get UN recognition, they can get IOC recognition as well. But this will not happen on its own. The people of the United States hold the power here, and if the US decides to fight sovereign status, as we have for centuries, little progress will likely be made. This is also where you come into play. If you brush this issue off, it will not likely change. If you learn more and get involved, it could. That’s how democracy works!
The point here is that while the majority of the burden does rest with the Iroquois and associated Native American groups, without the help of the US and its citizenry, nothing will change, and this means the Iroquois will not play lacrosse in the Olympics, should it ever reach that level. If the lacrosse community won’t help here, and just chooses to press on for the Olympics regardless, it would be telling day as to our current state of relations.
I will readily admit my bias here. I can’t really imagine lacrosse at the Olympics without the Iroquois. I simply can’t accept that some of the best players in the world, to whom the sport means something on a spiritual level, would be sitting at home and not playing for the Creator. I know we can do something about it. Now the question becomes… will we?
The Olympic Dream
For me, there are a number of major hurdles that lacrosse must pass over before it can become an Olympic sport. Those hurdles are not insurmountable, but they are serious. Continued sustainable growth, simplifying the differences between men and women, and spreading the good word are all obvious top priorities. But the trifecta of bringing along the originators of the game, spreading it to many more women, and making sure development work in new nations is real are also key elements to potential success.
Lacrosse has a lot of things going for it: it is fast-paced, exciting, and offers up lots of goals relative to other Olympic sports. Both men and women play it, the game is growing, and it is gaining new levels of popularity on the six livable continents. Progress since 1998 has been impressive in many regards, but the fight is far from over. If lacrosse continues on its current trajectory, 2028 is very achievable, but we can not slow our efforts for even one moment. That’s how big the Olympic Dream truly is.