From its creation by the indigenous peoples of North America, to its modern collegiate, professional, and international form, lacrosse has seen a lot of change throughout its history. Now, the sport sits on the precipice of its next great revolution.
While there’s no guarantee the sport will once again feature at the Olympic Games, it’s managed to reinvent itself in time for consideration. The ball and stick game is now closer to the five rings than it’s been since it last featured as a demonstration sport in 1948.
Sixes has emerged as a preferred format of World Lacrosse, with players and pundits alike praising the format after its debut at The World Games.
With confirmation the sport has been shortlisted among candidates for inclusion in the LA28 Summer Olympics, World Lacrosse CEO Jim Scherr is ready to sell the international sports community on the ball and stick game.
“We think lacrosse has pretty unique values and ideals that it has as a game,” said Scherr. “It is known as the ‘fastest game on two feet,’ and Sixes makes it even faster. It’s [an] incredibly fast-paced, exciting team sport.”
He added, “it has been the fastest growing team sport in North America for 20-25 years now. It is one of the fastest growing sports in the world, and we think lacrosse will be the next big sport on the world stage as we continue the growth pattern that we’ve achieved.”
To date, World Lacrosse has added 77 member federations to its roster. Scherr highlighted a recent breakthrough at The World Games as a positive development for international lacrosse.
“I think, as we saw with the most recent World Games where Japan earned a bronze medal, you’d see a very much more international lineup with our Lacrosse Sixes,” declared Scherr.
Questions about the international level of lacrosse have lingered since the sport became a serious contender for a spot on the LA28 sports program. The United States and Canada have long dominated the sport, with both countries playing in the gold medal matches at The World Games 2022. Lacrosse is the national sport of Canada.
Still, the performance of Japan helped assure World Lacrosse of the international competitiveness of the sport it governs. Scherr remained certain in the choice of format for the Olympic Games, telling Around The Rings, “we think Sixes is the right format for us for Olympic participation.”
Despite never playing at a high level himself, he spoke romantically about the game, stating, “people in lacrosse say there’s something magic in the stick.”
“Once you’ve had that stick and ball in your hands and played with it, you’re hooked on the game,” said Scherr. “You draw value as a person from that participation. I think that’s a very unique thing about the game.”
Lacrosse will need to stand out in a busy field of candidates that includes breaking, cricket, baseball/softball, flag football, karate, kickboxing, squash and motorsport. The sport will also have to contend with a fundamental issue many of the other candidates won’t, indigenous participation.
The Haudenosaunee Confederacy competes alongside other national teams in international lacrosse. A high profile ordeal played out before The World Games 2022, after teams representing the Confederacy were overlooked for qualification due to issues surrounding the rules of nationality.
Ultimately, a compromise was reached between the International World Games Association (IWGA) and World Lacrosse. Ireland voluntarily withdrew from the event to help facilitate the participation of the Confederacy’s teams.
The incident left many unanswered questions about the status of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy when it comes to potential Olympic inclusion. Scherr offered his view of the issue during an exclusive interview with Around The Rings.
“I would hope that a resolution could be found,” said the American. “Obviously, NOC status and IOC regulations would have to be looked at and both LA28 and the IOC would want to have the Haudenosaunee [Confederacy] participate.”
“However, as a sport, they are important to us,” underlined Scherr. “They’re important as the originators of the game. They’re still a very, very competitive nation among our top teams, so they’re an important part of the fabric of lacrosse.”
It’s a fabric as complex and entangled as the legacy of colonialism in North America.
In regards to the reintroduction of the sport into the Olympic Games as a means of facilitating reconciliation, Scherr responded, “we certainly understand, from the players themselves, that recognition and the opportunity to participate in the Olympics would help them, and their people, in terms of what they feel are very long standing issues that have been perpetrated on them.”
He wouldn’t go further on the topic, but sought to underline the position of the lacrosse community on indigenous participation in international events.
“I think that lacrosse, and this is how the lacrosse community views it, that the Haudenosaunee people gave the world the game of lacrosse. If that means ultimately that it’s participated back at the Olympic Games, I think that’s great for lacrosse.”
He added, “I think it’s better if all of our competitive nations have the opportunity to participate if lacrosse is in the Olympics.”
His comments somewhat echoed those of Jake Fox, a member of the Haudenosaunee team at The World Games. Fox told Around The Rings, “if the game is there it’s great. It grows the sport. It grows the game. It grows our game; but I believe it’s hard to include the sport if you don’t include the creators of the sport.”
Lacrosse will need to earn a spot on the sports program before the issue is addressed, but it will certainly be a hot button topic if lacrosse is included in the Games.
Scherr also spoke about the domestic growth of lacrosse as testament to its “host city sport” laurels. He stated, “lacrosse has grown exponentially across the U.S. Both in numbers and geographic spread in the last 20 years.”
“California is certainly one of the fastest growing lacrosse markets in the United States,” acknowledged Scherr. He spoke about the ongoing effort to embed the game in California ahead of the 2028 Summer Olympics.
“World Lacrosse is partnering with USA Lacrosse to launch more programs in urban areas in Los Angeles. Through 2028 we would look to capitalize on the growth of the game in California over the excitement lacrosse would reap from being an Olympic sport in LA.”
Of course, as stated above, it would need to be selected by LA28 and the IOC before making an encore appearance at the Olympic Games.
The days are dwindling for the sports program to be finalized. Lacrosse will be hopeful of an American Olympic sequel after the sport’s original debut at the 1904 Summer Olympics.
A shot has been fired towards the goal by World Lacrosse, now it just remains to be seen if it can find the back of the net.