For this Fireside Chat we were able to connect with Tim Wolbrink, who is the President of the Dutch Lacrosse Association! Tim is one of MANY people in Amsterdam that are helping to organize the 2012 European Championships, which will be played this Summer. Lacrosse, and the Euro Championships, have been growing and improving like crazy over the last 10 years. Let’s see what our European Lacrosse Brothers and Sisters have planned for their biggest event of the year!
We’ll start with a quick history lesson! How long have the Euro Championships been going on? Which European countries were the first ones to play back in the first event?
Tim Wolbrink: As I’m relatively new within European Lacrosse (I started playing in late 2002 in Amsterdam), I don’t remember exactly how European Lacrosse developed before the millennium. What I do know is that the first European Championship was held in 1995 with six national teams; Germany, England, Wales, Scotland, Sweden and the Czech Republic, competing to be named the best of our continent. England was honored as best lacrosse nation initially and managed to maintain this status until the EC tournament in 2001.
That year Germany became champion for the first time in its history. An interesting side note is that from 1995 until 2001, the EC was held every year. The women started the same yearly competition in 1996 and again, England was the best country. However, after 2001 the European Lacrosse community decided to change the regularity of the event from a yearly event to once every four years. So in 2004 Prague had the honor of organizing the European Championships within this new style. Coincidentally, that was also the moment that England decided to win every tournament again.
How many teams are there now? Who are the newest teams? And which countries will most likely play in the NEXT Euro Championships, that are not playing in 2012?
Tim Wolbrink: We are really proud of the fact that we are going to organize the biggest (European) Championships in the history of our sport. In total, 35 teams (with both men and women participating) from 20 different nations will compete in the EC12 next year. A thousand athletes will walk through the city of Amsterdam with their sticks. Just imagine that for a moment!
Of course, “the regulars” like Sweden, England, Germany, Czech Republic, Wales and Finland will be present. Those countries will be represented by both their men and women. New teams we can expect in 2012 are Belgium on the men’s side, and Poland on the women’s side. This is just the beginning though. European lacrosse is growing increasingly and at next tournament we can expect to have teams like Israel, Serbia, Bulgaria, Russia, and Hungary to show their lax skills. These are certainly exciting times for European lacrosse!
Why Amsterdam? Has the tourney been held there before? Where will the games be held? Is there a lot to do off the field?
Tim Wolbrink: In 2009, the European Lacrosse Federation asked countries to bid for organizing the tournament in 2012. Austria, Denmark and the Netherlands each made a bid, and the members of the ELF voted to have the EC12 in Amsterdam. This is of course something that makes Dutch Lacrosse very proud, as this is the first time in our history that we will host such a huge lacrosse event in our capital. I think what made our bid so enticing and strong is that Amsterdam is a city where you can have a really good time, and still organize professional tournaments, as we have a high density of hockey fields and a good infrastructure.
The tournament will be held at a venue with the most field hockey fields together in one area; the Amsterdamse Bos. We have the luxury of having more than 14 fields and 1 big field hockey stadium that can accomodate 8,000 people. Therefore, we will host a 50 team festival as well, next to the official tournament. It will all be held at the same venue, and the fields are all within a short walk of one another.
How about that?!?!?!
The festival will be an all-in tournament with games, clinics, marketing activation by brands like Heineken and of course big screens at the venue where we can watch the European Soccer Championships, which are being held in Poland/Ukraine. Have you ever seen the crazy orange people having a good time during any soccer championships If not, check the Youtube video below. We Dutch love our sport! And we aim to offer that same experience at our lacrosse championships!
Who are the favorites to win the EC12 right now? Who else has a really good shot at winning?
Tim Wolbrink: Looking at the history of the championship and the growth of the sport in Europe, it is England that is the obvious favorite. They have some players playing at the collegegiate level in the US, and also a very competitive league. This counts both for the men as for the women. Challengers for the title at this tournament will be Germany, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Italy as an outsider, and the Netherlands of course. The level of play is improving and the game is growing on this side of the ocean, and the most important thing is that we are going to see even more competitive lacrosse than ever before. The influences of the US and Canada continue to help the game grow day by day.
What is the overall atmosphere like at the games? Do a lot of people come out to watch as fans? It’s clear that Dutch soccer has a huge following, so what is lacrosse like? And do the teams get along off the field?
Tim Wolbrink: As lacrosse is still a relatively small sport in Europe, where around 100,000 players are involved in the sport, you always see the same core group at all the different tournaments. For me personally, that is not the best thing, as I always make the same jokes!
For the atmosphere during and after the games it is a good thing though. I think we can view lacrosse as a “movement” in Europe, and all current and former European Laxers are really proud to be part of this movement. Last year I played during the Mardi Gras tournament in N’awlins so I can compare the atmospheres nicely on both continents (Editor’s Note: the New Orleans Mardi Gras tourney is where Tim and Connor first met). In the end lacrosse people are the same everywhere, right? Chill atmosphere on both continents and a real community feel.
What does the winner of the EC12 get? Or is it all about Pride?
Tim Wolbrink: Looking at European history it is surely about pride, rivalry, and showing the rest of Europe that you are the best lacrosse nation!
Will most countries enter their real-deal national teams?
Tim Wolbrink: The best way to look at this is in comparison to the World Championships. And yes, although there may be less North Americans playing, most nations will surely bring the best team possible. And this is especially true now as more countries are becoming very competitive. It’s just not that easy to win games any more, and every game has the potential for upset. What we should see though, is that more home grown players will be playing for their national teams.
You can see this in Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands and especially in Germany, where they only have ‘real’ German players are participating. I think they are a good example for all the smaller countries to eventually follow.
Where will European lacrosse be in 10 more years?
Tim Wolbrink: Good question. All around it will continue to grow and improve, that’s for sure, but I’m not really sure if the current structure of European Lacrosse can give it that extra boost to make it explode like in the US.
Is there a similar event for box lacrosse in Europe?
Tim Wolbrink: Currently there is a set of tournaments organized into a league called the European Lacrosse League, which is the European equivalent of the NLL. Setting a league like that up is a brilliant step and will help grow box lacrosse. We don’t have a European Championship for box lacrosse yet and I don’t know if there are any plans for it at the moment.
What I find more important is that the ELF starts organizing a European Championship for U-19 teams. Youth lacrosse if growing here and it is time for the next step in that department.
What is Netherlands Lacrosse doing to make this the best Euro Championships ever?
Tim Wolbrink: Everything possible. We are close to connecting big international brands to the tournament and we are gaining more momentum every day. We have a really ambitious plan and have an enthusiastic, smart and entrepreneurial group of people organizing the tournament. So if this doesn’t quickly become the best tournament ever, we can only blame ourselves. But like I said, I’m really excited and know that the EC12 will be awesome.
Check out the EC12 Lacrosse website the next couple of weeks as we will post some really exiting updates about the festival (masters, youth and others), partnerships, and about the venue. I promise you that our PR/communication machine will not allow you to miss anything about the tournament. Let’s lax it up!