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Despite its booming popularity, lacrosse is not the most mainstream sport and has not gotten a chance in the limelight for over a century. In fact, the United States, Canada, and Great Britain were the only countries with teams competing in the 1904 and 1908 Olympics, the first and last instances of the sport being contested. In 1904, two teams from Canada and one from the United States competed in St. Louis, United States. Only two teams, one from Canada and one from Great Britain competed in London the second time. Canada won both times.
In 2018, as a step towards international recognition of the sport, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) granted provisional recognition status to the Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL). The status means that the organization can receive funding from the IOC and apply for development programs as it pursues full recognition status. It was one of three organizations granted this status, joining the World Association of Kickboxing Organisations and the Federation Internationale de Sambo. Thereafter, it had a rebrand and changed its name to World Lacrosse.
Lacrosse achieved a colossal breakthrough in October 2023 by being added to the Olympics for the Summer Games in Los Angeles in 2028 alongside baseball/softball, cricket, flag football, and squash - sports with roots and popularity in the United States. They were a package deal recommended by the Los Angeles 2028 organizing committee and accepted by the IOC Executive Board. After 120 years, lacrosse will be making its return as a medal sport in the Olympics again.
“[The inclusion] is a testament to our sport's enduring legacy, worldwide popularity and unique ability to bring people together,” said World Lacrosse CEO Jim Scherr. “It also signifies the culmination of an extraordinary journey to return North America’s first game to the Olympics, a journey made possible by the unwavering passion of our lacrosse community.”
However, this celebratory occasion for the sport may not be all sunshine and rainbows. Despite being the originators of the game, and one of the top-ranked teams in World Lacrosse, the Haudenosaunee (pronounced hoe-dee-no-SHOW-nee) may not have a spot in the 2028 Summer Olympics.
The Haudenosaunee Nationals, formerly known as the Iroquois, are made up of athletes from the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, including the Kanien'kehá:ka (Mohawk), Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora nations. They are members of World Lacrosse and compete at the global level. They are ranked second in the world in men’s box lacrosse and eighth in women's field lacrosse. The men’s team has won three bronze medals in world championships, including one this year. At the 2022 World Games, the men’s team finished fifth and the women, seventh.
In a formal statement, the IOC declared that only nations with national Olympic committees (NOCs) would be allowed teams into the games. “This means it is up to the two NOCs concerned (USA and Canada) - in coordination with World Lacrosse and the National Federations concerned - to decide if they include athletes from Haudenosaunee in their respective teams depending on the passport they hold,” the IOC said in a statement to The Associated Press. In other words, Haudenosaunee athletes must compete for either the American or Canadian team.
“Throughout the history of colonialism, it felt like the Haudenosaunee people and all Indigenous people were just fighting every day to still be alive,” said Kason Tarbell, a member of the Haudenosaunee men's team. “Society keeps trying to put us back down and erase us from the history books. But with our flag, we're showing every other country that we're still here, we're still fighting.”
“It's just really important for them to understand and recognize what we bring to the Olympic Games. Who we are as people comes with the game. They're intertwined.” said Claudia Jimerson, director of the Haudenosaunee Nationals women's program. She expects the road to the Olympics for the Indigenous team to be arduous, but remains optimistic.
The outcome will depend on whether or not the IOC will buck a decades-old tradition or will find a way to include players under the Haudenosaunee flag. Such a decision would pay homage to lacrosse’s Indigenous roots, in an ecosystem always seeking more inclusiveness and diversity.
“When you listen to stories told by elders, and those in the Native American community, the first game of lacrosse, or Dehoñtjihgwa'és, was between the land animals and the air animals,” said Marc Riccio, CEO of USA Lacrosse, the governing body of lacrosse in the United States. “The story shows that the game is for everyone. From the mouse to the deer, to the sparrow, to the eagle. The game is about inclusivity, it's about positivity and friendship.”