Lacrosse will take the international spotlight when Birmingham, Alabama hosts the 2022 World Games next summer. Women’s lacrosse is on the official program, while men’s lacrosse will be featured for the first time as an invitational sport.
There’s a lot more riding on that competition than naming a World Games champion. Lacrosse was granted provisional status by the International Olympic Committee in 2018 — meaning that the sport now receives funding from the IOC for development and is on the path toward potential inclusion as a showcase sport in the Olympic program at the 2028 Summer Games in Los Angeles.
Provisional IOC recognition is granted for a period of three years, and IOC officials have repeatedly noted that provisional status does not guarantee inclusion in the Olympic Games — see “competitive cheer.”
As US Lacrosse notes, the Olympic Charter states that a sport must be practiced widely by men in 75 countries on four continents and by women in 40 countries on three continents as key criteria for Olympic eligibility. Public interest and media attention are critical factors, as well.
“This is a process that’s exceptionally difficult,” World Lacrosse Chief Executive Officer Jim Scherr admitted, speaking at the US Lacrosse Convention in March, as reported by US Lacrosse Magazine. “It’s so beneficial for a sport to get on the Olympic Games program, even if it’s for one Games as a host city sport, because you have a platform that not only virtually everyone in your country consumes, but more than four billion people around the world consume your sport in some way.”
Scherr noted that lacrosse “is an incredibly attractive sport for the Olympic games” for several reasons. It has worldwide appeal, he said, it’s driven at the youth level and it’s popularity is increasing in the United States — making it ideal for the L.A. Games. He added that World Lacrosse is testing a new six-on-six version of the game to make it more appealing for the Olympics (which caps the number of athletes participating at 10,500). World Lacrosse approved official playing rules for the format in November.
That is the same version of lacrosse that will be played at the World Games, when lacrosse makes its second appearance as a championship sport in the quadrennial event.
“Lacrosse Sixes has an excellent opportunity, particularly if we can get this game to fit the television window, fit the window of live play during the Olympic Games, decrease the cost and complexity of staging this competition, but also create a product that is very consumable on digital and social media,” Scherr said. “That was our goal with Lacrosse Sixes. We’re on the way. It’s not the full-field game, but we think it offers an incredible amount as a potential Olympic discipline.”
Lacrosse’s Long History
Lacrosse, a sport originated by Native Americans, was designated a medal sport in the 1904 and 1908 Olympics, and it was a demonstration sport in the 1928, 1932 and 1948 Games. If the sport achieves Olympic status for Los Angeles, it would be the first time in 80 years it had any connection with the Games. In 2012, the Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) was formally accepted into SportAccord (now known as the Global Association of International Sports Federations), the umbrella organization for all Olympic and non-Olympic international sports federations.
Among the goals of US Lacrosse’s 2019-2023 Strategic Plan is to “collaborate with the FIL to position lacrosse participation as a medal sport in the 2028 Olympics” by increasing the sport’s profile in the Greater Los Angeles and Birmingham, Ala., areas.
“The opportunity goes back to the individual athlete and their dream of being in the Olympic Games,” Scherr said at the US Lacrosse Convention. “We would like to provide that for the athletes of lacrosse. In our polling, virtually 100 percent of the athletes want to have that dream.”
Meanwhile, World Lacrosse is working with the Iroquois Nationals men’s lacrosse team to help it form a National Olympic Committee to seek IOC recognition in 2024 and be allowed to participate in the Olympics should lacrosse make the 2028 program.
“The Olympic Games eligibility standards right now is for an athlete to be entered in the Olympic Games, you have to correspond to a national Olympic committee,” Scherr said. “They’re not recognized universally by the United Nations as a sovereign nation as World Lacrosse has recognized them. They have to overcome both of those challenges.”
“We basically have to sell the IOC on our international experience, our international standing, our sovereignty, and the good things that’ll happen if we’re there playing lacrosse, the game we originated,” Leo Nolan, executive director of the Iroquois Nationals, told CBC.ca.
He’s “very optimistic” about the team’s chances, and thinks “it’d be a great gesture, a great symbolic step for Indigenous communities — not just us, not just American and Alaska natives, or First Nations folks — but for Indigenous communities around the world.”
Not to mention another big move for the sport.