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2009 E-Lacrosse Feature: Lacrosse in the Olympics?

Every four years, I hear all this talk about lacrosse in the Olympics. Most of it is in the form of complaint, but some of it is misinformed anticipation, as if we are close. We are not.

In the official Olympic Charter, which was revised last in September of 2000, there are specific requirements for a new sport to be admitted to the Olympic Games.

Section 52 of the Charter, entitled "Admission of Sports, Disciplines, and Events" lists the set of requirements that must be met before any sport can even be considered:

1. The Sport Must be Widely Practiced

"Only sports widely practiced by men in at least seventy-five countries and on four continents, and by women in at least forty countries and on three continents, may be included in the programme of the Games of the Olympiad." For Winter sports, the criteria is 25 countries on 3 continents. (Olympic Charter Section 52, Paragraph 1.1.1) Lacrosse misses on this mark and only on this one, really. But we fall far short with only 10 nations competing internationally for women (in 2005) and 21 teams for men (in 2006) with only six competing in the highest division. A few more nations are starting to play, so the number will grow slowly. More importantly, those nations are, for the most part, starting at the college level and are fueled by second-generation Americans who are allowed to play in international competition. During Ireland's first year in the games, they were jokingly referred to as "Long Ireland" because the New York drawl drowned out the Irish brogue on the sidelines. This does not lay the groundwork needed for future inclusion within even 20 or 30 years. We are proud of the growing Under-19 World Tournament and the other youth efforts around the world, but this year's event, held last month in Coquitlam, British Columbia, had only 12 nations in attendance.

Also, remember, in lacrosse we have an extra nation that does not count in the Olympic numbers. The Iroquois are recognized in lacrosse as their own nation because we respect their lacrosse heritage and honor their place as our game's "host nation", but they do not compete in the Olympics as the Iroquois Nation. They would play for Canada or the United States if there ever were lacrosse in the Olympics. One of America's greatest Olympic legends, Jim Thorpe, was a Native American lacrosse player at the Carlisle School in Pennsylvania before going on to Olympic and football fame.

2. The Sport Must Have International Standing

"To be included in the programme of the Olympic Games, events must have a recognized international standing both numerically and geographically, and have been included at least twice in world or continental championships." (Olympic Charter Section 52, Paragraph 3.2) Lacrosse meets this standard. The ILF and the WILF are the worldwide organizing bodies and there are World Games of Lacrosse for men and a World Cup of Lacrosse for women every four years.

3. There Must be Drug Testing

"Only sports that apply the Olympic Movement Anti-Doping Code and in particular perform out-of-competition testing in accordance with the rules of the World Anti-Doping Agency will be included in the programme of the Olympic Games." (Olympic Charter Section 52, Paragraph 1.1.3) Lacrosse would meet this standard with the stroke of a pen. Both the ILF and WILF would institute drug testing policies without hesitation if there were any cause at all. The Olympic requirement would be the only cause, but it would be a minor expense after a unanimous vote to institute testing at the world lacrosse competitions.

4. There Must Not Be Mechanical Propulsion

"Sports, disciplines or events in which performance depends essentially on mechanical propulsion are not acceptable." (Olympic Charter Section 52, Paragraph 4.2) Lacrosse meets this standard. NASCAR is never getting in.

So as you can see we are close, as people say, to Olympic inclusion in terms of having three of the four requirements met. But the first and most important requirement is only reachable if the efforts to grow the game over the last few decades are doubled and then perhaps again over the next few decades.

A large obstacle to any 30-year plan is that the International Olympic Committee changes the rules every so often and they have already voted out sports that meet the criteria above. Taekwondo survived an IOC vote for the 2012 Games in London, but will face another IOC vote next year when members cast ballots for the location of the 2016 Games and various other administrative issues like new sports. Karate, rugby and golf are among a number of non-Olympic sports vying for inclusion on that ballot. Softball and baseball were voted out of the 2012 Games in London and both failed to get reinstated in 2006. Softball will be played in Beijing. The IOC wants to reduce the number of core sports to 26. To make matters worse, softball is said to have hurt its chances at inclusion because of the United States' domination of the sport. The two-country stranglehold on lacrosse trophies for the last 100 years by the U.S. and Canada will not help the game's chances with the IOC.

I'll make a prediction that I think is fair, correct and I hope I live to see: Lacrosse will get a vote to perhaps become an Olympic sport in the same decade that England or Australia wins the World Games of lacrosse and either Japan, Ireland, Czech Republic, Germany or China is in the final four. We are probably looking at 2050 or later.

We have much work cut out for us if the Olympics are the goal. But then again, we have our games every four years and they are fantastic. Lacrosse folks are the only people in attendance, which is low. I call it a "quaint atmosphere". Besides, at our games, the sport is never outdone by figure skating, preempted by gymnastics or overshadowed by a great swimmer.

August 6, 2008
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