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Olympic Lacrosse – Pros And Cons

I’m all for Olympic Lacrosse. If I ran the world, the sport would be included in the games… heck, if I ran the world, lacrosse would be the ONLY game in the Olympics (I’d clearly be a terrible dictator), but I don’t run the world, and we should all be thankful for that. Except the lacrosse part, I guess.

So aside from renaming the world something ridiculous and putting it under my lazy dominion, can lacrosse make it into the Olympic Games at some point in the near future?

The situation is constantly changing, so let’s take a look at what Lacrosse has going for it when it comes to Olympic dreams, and where the stumbling blocks lie.

Olympic Lacrosse Pros

  1. Lacrosse has grown rapidly, and is continuing to show signs of growth. The game is now popular in most of North America, and in smaller concentrations, many European nations. Australia has played the sport for 100+ years. There are a couple of dedicated national programs in South America, and the Asia/South Pacific Region has seen a lot of recent growth. There is one proven team in Africa, and many others starting up newer efforts. If this continues world-wide, and spreads to younger aged male and females players as well as more adults, the sport looks great as an Olympic hopeful, in the future.
  2. Lacrosse is being played in the World Games in 2017. Poland will not see lacrosse played fully, but a smaller grouping of women’s teams (most of the top nations in the world) will play games and crown a champion. While no men’s games will be played as an official part of the tourney, “lacrosse” as both men and women know it, is still being represented. The World Games are a trial run, and if the women’s games do well, our sport is positioned nicely for the next steps, like full World Games inclusion for men and women and eventual Olympic consideration.
  3. More national teams have passport holding players. In the past, international lacrosse teams often had a good number of North Americans on their rosters, and fewer held passports. Now, more than ever before, players hold passports for their nations, and if we want to play these games in the Olympics, this issue is one of the utmost importance. More “homegrown” players also bodes well for the sport’s image with the IOC.
  4. Lacrosse is still an amateur sport in most places. Ok, so the US, Canada, and Iroquois players do make money playing lacrosse, but it’s not big time money. It’s not Durant or Phelps money. It’s probably less than Track and Field money. While pro athletes can now compete in the Olympics, having mostly amateurs out there allows for some amazing fireman/fogo storylines to be told. Really, this is a HUGE point to make as a positive for lacrosse. People don’t love swimming because it’s exciting, they love it for the stories. So tell lacrosse player/amazing job/person stories and watch the world care. It’s honestly harder to do that with Durant or Phelps. The world already “know” them. I just want to see them dominate. But tell me about Australia’s 42 year old goalie. Tell that STORY. It’s a proven key to success.
  5. There is talk and movement on a unified field diagram. Listen, the Olympics have a rule where men’s and women’s sports must be played on the same field, meaning the same lines are used for both sports. The FIL has worked up a field for use, but until it’s been tested, and used a LOT, it can be a stumbling block for consideration. I have it as a positive because the FIL has a plan here, and is acting on it. But it does go a long way in explaining why lacrosse has not been included already. Of course there are other reasons… more on that later. Back to positive for now.
  6. It’s exciting, has revenue potential, and it can work on TV. We all love lacrosse. Obviously. I don’t need to explain that. When it comes to revenue, you can sell tickets, play it in stadiums, and treat it like a smaller version of soccer. Smaller existing stadiums could be used for lacrosse games than could be used for Olympic Soccer, and that keeps construction costs down for our sport’s consideration for inclusion. Finally, it works on TV pretty well. At least as well as Field Hockey, and that draws good numbers on TV. It won’t rival basketball or soccer, but it works. Check the box. Sometimes that’s enough.
  7. It could make for a great Olympic story in general. Imagine this ad (said in movie announcer guy voice):

Over 2000 years ago the first Olympiad was held in Greece. 6,000 miles away, Native Americans were playing their sacred Creator’s game, as it is known today, lacrosse. Now, 2 millenium later, the Olympics and Lacrosse come together to showcase the most sacred game of all.

Ok, I just got chills and threw up in my mouth a little because of the overt commercialization of something sacred, but hey, that’s part of the Olympics. It will happen Remember that!

Olympic Lacrosse Cons

  1. While it’s technically true that enough countries play lacrosse for it to be considered for the Olympics, not enough countries REALLY play lacrosse. 100 people and a national team is not compelling enough for Olympic inclusion. More nations simply need to increase their numbers of players, leagues, and youth participation. Part of being in the Olympics is being a world-wide sport. Lacrosse is getting there, but has a ways to go.
  2. The unified field has not been widely adopted. Until men and women play on the same field, and it happens all over the place, our sport is in trouble. Good luck trying to exempt lacrosse from this rule. The fact that men and women use different rules entirely doesn’t help our cause either. These are Olympic charter issues, and no amount of complaining is likely to change anything. I still have my doubts that the Olympics want sports where men and women play by different rules. It makes me very doubtful of a positive outcome for lacrosse.
  3. Right now, no Iroquois. If you’re not a UN recognized nation, a team can’t compete in the Olympics. Maybe the Iroquois could play under the Olympic flag, as a “refugee” team, but I don’t know about all that. I’m sure the Iroquois would want to play under their own flag anyway. And the Iroquois are not recognized as a member nation by the UN. So can lacrosse morally go to the Olympics without including the people who originally played the Creator’s Game? This isn’t a game made up by a gym coach. It’s something sacred. Wherever you stand on this issue, you know one thing: it will be an issue our sport will have to confront if the Olympic inclusion is ever a real possibility.
  4. We’ve got competition! Look at Rugby 7s this year. Rugby7s wasn’t a very popular sport too long ago, and in places like Australia, it was simply an offseason training tool or practice drill for “real” Rugby up until a decade or two ago. Now it’s gaining in popularity on League and Union style Rugby all over the world, and was a huge hit in the Olympics this year even though they’ve only run Rugby7s world championships for just over 20 years. It’s not the only sport like that. Beach Soccer, Futsal, and a couple other “mutant” sports are taking off, simple to play, and similar enough to much of what is already out there that people don’t blink an eye.
  5. No Wales and No Scotland either. I almost forgot about that whole UK issue in the Olympics. Even England doesn’t get its own team. It’s all Team UK. While these are not “Olympic” nations, they are longstanding members of the lacrosse world.

Ok, so what can lacrosse do to make it to the Olympics? I can’t just talk about some good stuff, then dump some bad stuff, and walk away. What can lacrosse DO? Prepare to go inside, around, and outside the box.

Crazy Theory #1 – Keep at it, boys!

Lacrosse doesn’t need to do anything, or change anything. The men and women can both keep their games, we’ll figure the field thing out, and then Grow the Game day after day, month after month, until our sport is included. Field or box? Probably field, but who knows, and who cares. All that matters is that lacrosse people care enough to make it happen. We made it into the World Games, we’re growing, and our sport is great. People WILL like it and the Olympics will accept us if we just put in the work.

Crazy Theory #2 – ThunderDome

Rugby took League and Union and kept them as-is. Rugby7s gained recent popularity and was faster, shorter, easier to understand, and fun as heck. So lacrosse creates “ThunderDome Lacrosse” or Lax7s, that’s actually better, and both men and women play by the same rules. It’s not 10v10 or 12v12, it’s 7v7, and it follows the same rules that the Uganda League uses, created by Kevin Dugan. Men and women play by the same rules, with the same sticks, on the same fields, and the FIL tells every member nation that they need to create a “ThunderDome” (I’m going back to it) team within the next year. Now you have a sport you can sell as a perfect Olympic sport, and you put on a worldwide tour showing it off. PLUS, smaller and newer lacrosse countries would have an easier time playing the game. Sound familiar? Wait, this crazy theory actually worked once already. Huh.

Crazy Theory #3 – Forget It All

Let’s just keep the FIL World Championships as the pinnacle of our sport. The Olympics requires too much change from us, and is quite frankly, a corrupt organization, which we should not endeavor to join. Plus the Iroquois/Scotland/Wales/England issue. We’re good, thanks.

Crazy Theory #4 – Push Box! It’s Box Time!

Box enthusiasts will advocate for box lacrosse, as they are wont to do. Fair enough. But they do have a point. A lot of countries already play, and when the girls play, they do so using the same rules and equipment. It’s also good on TV, AND IT CAN BE PLAYED DURING THE SUMMER OR WINTER!!!!! This actually doubles the chances for inclusion for lacrosse. Scratch that, as Graeme Perrow pointed out to me on Twitter, winter sports must be on snow or ice. So… snow lacrosse? Box on an ice rink where everyone wears curling shoes with suction cups? It’s kind of tempting, if only for the sounds that would be made. If we see more box, and more women playing box, it could still work over the Summer. The point stands, box could work.

Crazy Theory #5 – It Won’t Happen

The final crazy theory is the saddest one. Hopefully it motivates people and doesn’t send them in to a long and deep depression.

The fact is, each of the above approaches (even more exist) has some merit, as does each distinct version of our game (men’s field, women’s, box, small sides). And each community is ardent in their support of their version of the game. Women don’t want to wear helmets. Men don’t want remove hitting. Box players need to crosscheck. So how does such a disparate group come together to make a push for Olympic inclusion?

Lacrosse is still a small sport. For it to be seriously considered, it will need to grow, and continue to grow at a rapid rate. Where will countries place resources? Will it be about participation and future glory, or winning now? For many it can not be about both because of financial burdens. If there is a “smaller game” created, can our community rally from all angles around it? If Box is chosen over Field, or vice versa, will the “loser” still come to bat for the other version of the game? What if only women’s lacrosse is acceptable? Would the men change their game for Olympic glory?

There are simply so many questions still about our Olympic future. Some are being addressed, but others nag and pull us away from the end goal, held by many, of being a true world sport. 2024 is still the earliest I can see lacrosse being played in the Olympics, but if the sport community doesn’t pull together on this issue, it could be a lot longer than that. I do believe it’s a viable goal.

So what do you think of lacrosse’s future? Are these issues and problems surmountable? What’s the timetable? What can be done to speed that up? What can NOT be done if we want to succeed? What would hurt the sport the most?