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Canada - 2015 World Indoor Lacrosse Champions

Canada Lacrosse Problems Not Going Away

Canada Lacrosse MUST find a way forward, and do so together. The very future of lacrosse around the world depends on it. Big CLA update!

Sadly, Canada Lacrosse has problems. On Saturday, we brought you the news that the Canadian Lacrosse Association board had accepted the resignations of Dean French, Johnny Mouradian, and Dave Huntley. The three men (and Gary Gait) made up the leadership group of the National Team Program, and had offered their resignations to the CLA in a letter which stipulated that the men would resign if at least two members of the CLA board (Joey Harris and Sohen Gill) did not step down themselves.

As of Monday morning, we have no update on Gary Gait’s status with the CLA or NTP.

While the dispute between the CLA board and NTP leadership seems to originate from a couple of different places, one of the main drivers is clearly the CLA’s 2010 loss of RCAAA (Registered Canadian Amateur Athletic Association) status, stemming from a tax shelter issue. Through an attorney, the NTP leadership has said that RCAAA status could not be regained without dismissing the board members who were in place when the CLA lost their RCAAA status.

And this is where the ongoing dispute gets really messy, with shows no signs of letting up.

A new Peterborough Examiner article with the headline “Canadian Lacrosse Association may need to be dissolved and replaced with a new organization to get charity status back” (that’s a mouthful!) lays out a very interesting take on how things could possibly progress. It’s well worth a read.

The article also talks about a “newly formed” National Lacrosse Team Players Association (NLTPA), and how some former national team players are getting involved with some of the current players. The NLTPA has sought legal opinions on the matter, and they have come to a very different conclusion than the CLA board seems to have reached.

Canada's Katie Donohoe during the World Cup Final at the 2017 FIL Rathbones Women's Lacrosse World Cup, at Surrey Sports Park, Guildford, Surrey, UK, 22nd July 2017.
Photo: Ady Kerry / England Lacrosse

The CLA seems to argue that RCAAA status can be regained once their ongoing court case fighting the 2010 charges is resolved. The NLTPA seems to be arguing that the CLA can not regain it RCAAA status without removing the board members who were involved when the status was lost. An attorney mentioned in the PE article seems to go even further, stating that the 2010 loss of status can never be “reversed”.

If the status can not be “reversed”, it is still not all that clear if RCAAA status can be “regained” after it has been lost, and there are a lot of arguments out there getting thrown around, and a lot of legal talk. I’ve looked around as much as I can, and I have not found any examples of groups regaining RCAAA status once it has been lost. Little League Baseball Canada lost their status in 2009, the year before the CLA lost theirs, and they have not regained their status either.

Because of all this supposed confusion around the law (with different statements coming from different lawyers and little available legal precedent), the idea has now been floated publicly that Canada needs a new national governing body for lacrosse.

Yes, you read that right, some people are really talking about forming a new NGB for lacrosse in Canada.

If you follow Canadian lacrosse players on social media, you’ll see this general topic being discussed pretty heavily, although I don’t see any players calling for a “new CLA”. Some players haven’t said a word, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have an opinion. For the players who are speaking up, there just seems to be a real desire for progress. I get the feeling that the players have been waiting for this situation to be resolved for quite some time. The national team players genuinely seem to like Huntley, Mouradian, and French. They appreciate what these men have done, and the success that they have helped bring to Canada Lacrosse, all as volunteers. There is loyalty there, and a deep connection.Iroquois v Canada 6.17 World Lacrosse Championship

At the same time, the CLA board is the current leadership group of Canada Lacrosse, and the men there have been involved in the game in Canada (and abroad) for decades. Also, they were voted into their positions, not simply placed there. For better or for worse, Canada Lacrosse chose these men to lead the way, through their own processes.

The CLA just held their annual meetings this past weekend in Winnipeg, and while we need to see what they come out with this week (if anything), there is definitely still potential for trouble here. If this comes to a head with threats and red lines, I’m not sure anyone will feel all that compelled to give in and cede their side.

The whole situation has the potential to be really, really ugly.

Think about it this way – If the CLA board doesn’t change anything, the NLTPA and former NTP leadership will feel like their hand is being forced. They will NOT be able to form a new governing body and be accepted and approved by the FIL (which the CLA is heavily involved in) before the 2018 games. This means the CLA is very likely sending a team to Israel.

Or are they?

Mike French, a former national team player (no relation to Dean French), has mentioned the idea of boycotting the games if CLA leadership and/or insurance practices do not change. Could you even imagine a lacrosse world championships without the defending champs? That would be unreal, and terrible for the sport, especially as it makes a push for the Olympics.

What if all the current national team players boycott and the CLA sends a team of guys who cross the picket lines? That can’t be good for the sport moving forward, can it?

What if Canada still sends a team of current players, but nothing changes? Does the wound fester and come up again and again, next time even worse?

What if the CLA board members in question do step down? Will the NLTPA be satisfied? Will the atmosphere of threats and ultimatums continue or abate? What happens with the RCAAA?

Perhaps you think I’m being dramatic here, and perhaps I am. There is a chance that this all works out cleanly and for the best. But there is a history of infighting in lacrosse that can not be ignored, and it almost killed the sport off entirely in Canada the last time it raised its ugly head.

Canada’s lacrosse team competes at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics. (CP Photo/COA)

In the early 1900s, lacrosse was by far and away the most popular summer sport in Canada. As overt violence in the game became more prevalent, a divide emerged between Montreal, Ontario, and Vancouver, and the two pro leagues started to break down, eventually collapsing in 1914, right before the onset of WWI. Players, fans, and leadership were not on the same page. A lacking organizational structure, divisive politics, and a stagnant base of players and fans almost ended the sport’s run.

The CLA was founded in 1925, and in 1931 box lacrosse was invented in Canada and became the primary version of the game quickly. Field lacrosse languished while box became popular, but professional operations did not pan out. Some of this was due to the Great Depression obviously, but it was another case where people simply could not agree, and push for the same common goal and benefit. Instead, infighting over “amateur vs professional” and territoriality issues ruled the day, and the sport never took off like hockey was able to do.

A lot has changed since the early 1900s, but doesn’t this sound at all familiar to you? Maybe just a little bit?

Fast forward to today, and lacrosse is still an “amateur” sport in Canada (and everywhere else). Most players don’t get paid, and those that do don’t make a lot of money, and some of it is under the table. Even though the game has grown and pro leagues once again exist, players are not making anywhere near what their contemporaries make in other major sports, and both pro leagues are still quite small. National team players still pay much of their own way to represent their country.Canada Iroquois Nationals Jeff Melnik

Just like it did in the early 1900s and 1930s, our game is facing an open door of opportunity right now. We are not even close to approaching our goal of lacrosse being a truly national and international game, but it is in sight and it is within reason that we could get there. Lacrosse can happen on a much larger stage. However, if we go down the same path of infighting and petty divisiveness before we get to our goal, our trip will take a lot longer, and we might not ever reach our destination. It has happened before.

I sincerely hope this situation can be resolved cleanly, and most importantly, for the betterment of Canada Lacrosse and the sport around the world. It’s not my place to tell them HOW to do it, I just hope that they can find a way.

Canada Lacrosse has become a shining beacon at the international level, and if the country can find a way to pull together and truly Grow The Game, then this success can continue for generations. It will take compromise, reason, and working for something bigger than one’s self. All I can really offer as advice is to start from the point where you know everyone LOVES the game of lacrosse, and work from there. There will be differences, but find common ground, and keep moving forward, TOGETHER, for the coming generations and current players alike.How Does Canada Lacrosse Grow The Game?

As we bake a bigger pie, we need to remember that we can not divide and eat that same pie until it is baked. There is so much work to be done, and a long uphill battle to be fought. If we divide ourselves now, the sport will fall, again.

Canada Lacrosse MUST find a way forward, and do so together. The very future of lacrosse depends on it. I will be hoping for the best and keeping a close eye on this ever-evolving situation.

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