International Lacrosse
and the Olympic Goal

In the late 20th Century, lacrosse has also experienced growth on the international level, especially in the last decade. The first international competitions between countries in lacrosse were at the Olympics in the early 20th century. However, lacrosse did not remain an Olympic sport, and so the International Lacrosse Federation started the World Championship tournament in 1967, and it has been played every four years since 1974, similar to soccer's World Cup.

International lacrosse has been dominated by the Americans, who have won the World Championship every year except 1978, in which the Canadian team rebounded from a 28-4 loss to the Americans in the early round to beat them 17-16 in the championship. This was an upset of nearly epic proportions. The accomplishment by the Canadians was so great, Canadian player Dave Huntley says, "...that the American players were happy for us".

Photo by Bill Welch
The World Championship has multiplied in size, in terms of teams competing, because eleven teams participated in the 1998 championship, up from six in the 1994 competition and only four in 1986.

The countries taking part were Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, England, Germany, Iroquois Nation, Japan, Scotland, Sweden, United States, and Wales. Although lacrosse has gained popularity internationally and is played in more countries, the United States was still expected to dominate in the 1998 competition, retaining possession of the Turnbull Trophy. However, they did not do so as easily as they did winning 21-7 in the 1994 final over Australia.

In the 1998 final, the United States defeated Canada 15-14 in an historic overtime battle. The United States jumped out quickly and led the final 11-1. Canada then came back from this huge deficit and tied the game at 13 with two goals in the final minute, forcing overtime. In the two overtime periods, the U.S. scored two goals to Canada's one, thwarting one of the greatest efforts in the game's history.

Photo by Bill Welch

One of the teams that competed in the 1998 World Lacrosse Championship was the Iroquois Nation, composed of the Oneida, Onondoga, Cayuga, Seneca, Mohawk, and Tuscarora tribe members. The Iroquois, as well as many other Native American tribes in the northeast, continue to play the game and value it as much as they always have. However, they have modernized the rules and do not play the game the same as they did centuries ago. The Iroquois tribes have often competed against white teams, using modernized rules but still not the same rules as the whites. In one game between the Iroquois and Hobart University, the Hobart players, thinking that the game was played with sidelines as under the white teams' rules, lost track of the Native ball carrier, who hid in the woods adjacent to the field. He emerged minutes later at the other end, where he scored the winning goal.

The Iroquois have been competing against other countries since the 19th Century, but they were not allowed to participate in the World Championship or Olympics until 1990 because the box lacrosse leagues they played in were considered professional in nature and therefore ineligible for amateur competition. However, after petitioning the ILF in 1990, the Natives were finally allowed to compete. Although they did not win any games in that competition, the Iroquois had a symbolic victory in that they were able to compete.

Photo by Frank LaForme
The Iroquois' winless streak in ILF World Championships did not last long. Their first win came in the 1994 games, when they defeated newcomer Japan twice. They surpassed another milestone defeating England in the 1998 games 10-9, finishing an all-time high fourth place out of eleven teams. Although they enjoyed victory against England, as well as all the others, the Iroquois put little importance on winning and losing.
Tony Gray says, "We play to please the Creator, so there is no pressure on us to win or lose."

Because of the success of recent ILF World Championships, especially the 1998 games, many people in the lacrosse community talk about attempting to re-include lacrosse in the Olympic games. But the reason for lacrosse's exclusion lies in the Olympic charter, which has evidently changed since the days that lacrosse was played in the Olympics. It states that a men's sport must be played widely in 75 countries to become an Olympic event. Eleven teams participated in the 1998 World Championship, and five more (Korea, China, Argentina, Finland, and Switzerland) will most likely compete in the 2002 Championship.

Paul Gait - Photo by John Strohsacker
Twelve other nations play intercrosse, a co-ed version of the sport played by rules resembling the women's game. This means that lacrosse must further develop in 12 countries and grow to 47 others in order to become an Olympic sport. This is a task that would take decades, and under this rule it is unlikely that lacrosse will be in the Olympics before 2050.


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