As the U.S. continues the march toward the 2028 Olympics, there are already plenty of sports jockeying for position. And one of those is lacrosse.
It wouldn’t actually be anything new. According to an entry in Wikipedia, lacrosse has actually been contested twice at the Summer Games: once in 1904 and once in 1908. It was also held as a demonstration sport at the 1928, 1932, and 1948 Olympics.
But not since then.
While the U.S. sees the popularity of the sport on the national scale only, there has been growth internationally as well. The Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL), the world governing body, currently has 60 member nations and holds five World Championships: Men’s Lacrosse World Championship; Under-19 Men’s Lacrosse World Championship; Men’s World Indoor Lacrosse Championship; Women’s Lacrosse World Cup; and Under-19 Women’s Lacrosse World Championship. Each event is held on a quadrennial basis.
And the sport is making no secret of its Olympic intentions, having recently announced the appointment of two special directors, Peter Guber and David Ryan, to work toward that goal – and in the process, to develop the sport’s international presence even further.
Both men have lax pedigrees as well as sports business experience. Guber played lacrosse in college and is the owner and co-executive chairman of the Golden State Warriors basketball team, co-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team and owner of Los Angeles Football Club.Ryan has spent his entire career in international finance including 22 years at Goldman Sachs, where he worked as President of Asia Pacific – and he played lacrosse for Yale.
Count on these two to wind up the spin cycle for the sport rather quickly. Unfortunately, lacrosse’s last stints in the Olympics were poorly received. In all the times it has been present – either as a medal sport or as a demonstration sport – it drew teams from no more than three nations (and mostly only two). Compounding the problem was the fact that not even the U.S. formed its own national team. In 1928 and again in 1932, the United States was represented by the Johns Hopkins men's lacrosse team, and in 1948 by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (R.P.I.).Canada sent a team in 1928 and 1932, and Great Britain sent a team in 1928 and 1948.
Lately, with more national federations playing lacrosse, leading to an all-time high of 46 nations playing in the 2018 World Lacrosse Championship, and with its high school popularity continuing to climb among both genders, it’s safe to say the profile has grown. Steve Stenersen, who is president and CEO of US Lacrosse and additionally sits on the FIL board, says FIL has already put in an application for recogntion from the International Olympic Committee (an international governing body is required if a sport is to be considered for Olympic inclusion) and is waiting for word on whether FIL will be accepted as a Provisional Member of the IOC (the first step toward recognition). And speaking from both an FIL perspective, as well as from that of US Lacrosse, he is optimistic.
"We feel this is a tremendous opportunity, both for the sport and for the Olympic Games," he noted. "Our strategy is geared toward the 2028 Summer Games and we’ve got a very aggressive and achievable plan to return lacrosse to the Olympics by that time."
Despite the fact that FIL now has a total of 62 member organizations on six continents globally, there are a few problems that might slow down the sport’s chances at the Olympic level. According to Inside the Games, “there is concern over the whole new sports concept, given the extra burden it places on an Organizing Committee at a time of widespread criticism against rising costs for an Olympic Games. The IOC underwent a far more frugal process to add new disciplines and events at Tokyo 2020 within existing sports last year without raising the total number of athletes. Chances for team sports such as baseball/softball and cricket appear to have been particularly reduced because of the far greater number of athletes required.”
Lacrosse, as a team sport, could also find itself going head to head for showcase inclusion with baseball and softball which will be considered showcase sports in Tokyo 2020 and probably will not be included in the Paris version of the Games in 2024. Count on them to be making their case for inclusion in 2018 as well.
Should lacrosse find its way onto the Olympic field of competition, Inside Lacrosse has theorized there will be some very big changes in the game, including rule changes, equipment restrictions and field sizes. In addition, (get ready for it) some pundits are even suggesting that genders will be required to wear helmets if the sport makes it to the world stage.
The U.S. has been working to cement its status as a lacrosse power, and as such, SGB Online recently carried an article, noting that Major League Lacrosse had revamped its salary structure, heightening the salary cap for the league. The U.S. continues to recruit and retain top players, and recently brought home the gold medal in the 2018 World Championships in Netanya, Israel, with Canada taking silver and the Iroquois Nation winning bronze. The previous cycle, the U.S. had lost the gold medal game to Canada when the championship game played out in Denver, Colorado.
As a side note, the Manchester, England was originally selected to host the tournament, but withdrew in May 2017. Instead, the championships took place in Israel, marking the first time the games were played outside of the United States, Canada, England or Australia.
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