2024 Still the Goal for Lacrosse in the Olympics
Last week, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that wrestling had been re-instated to the roster of sports for the 2020 and 2024 Summer Olympic Games. The IOC chose to reinstate wrestling, which had been dropped from the official line-up earlier in the year, instead of adding a combined baseball-softball entry or squash. Lacrosse was not included on the short list for consideration.
After reading this news, I contacted Tom Hayes, former head coach at Rutgers University and now the director of development for the Federation of International Lacrosse, which serves as the international governing body for both men's and women's lacrosse. I was curious to hear Tom's opinion on whether the latest IOC decision would impact lacrosse's potential for Olympic inclusion. After all, he probably monitors these developments more closely than any other person I know in the lacrosse community.
It has been Tom's opinion that lacrosse's most realistic opportunity for Olympic inclusion would be with the 2024 Summer Games. He articulated that view for an article we published in Lacrosse Magazine ("The Olympic Dream") in September 2012. I was encouraged to hear that his opinion had not changed.
"I still think lacrosse has a lot of momentum going for it," said Hayes, who was also selected as LM's 2012 Person of the Year for his efforts to move the sport closer to the Olympic stage. "The IOC understands that we have a hot sport that also has a lot of T.V. appeal."
While trying to understand and predict IOC decisions can be a daunting challenge, Tom does seem to have some insight. He told me that he was not surprised at all that Tokyo, Japan was chosen over Madrid and Istanbul as host city for the 2020 Summer Games. In fact, he explained, that choice may work in lacrosse's favor.
"Japan had the strongest presentation," said Hayes, who watched all three finalist cities make presentations during an IOC meeting earlier this year. "There are also 20,000 lacrosse players in Japan, so that might help us in being a demonstration sport."
While it's not a requirement, host cities are allowed to petition the IOC for inclusion of a demonstration sport (no medals awarded) for the purpose of promoting the sport on a worldwide stage. Baseball was a demonstration sport at the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, and most recently, Beijing hosted a wushu competition during the 2008 Games. Lacrosse historians may know that men's lacrosse has been featured as a demonstration sport three times previously: 1928 in Amsterdam, 1932 in Los Angeles and 1948 in London.
"I've already sent some emails to lacrosse contacts that I have in Japan," Hayes said.
In the meantime, Hayes notes that lacrosse, via the work of the FIL, continues to position itself wisely in the eyes of the IOC. Acceptance into SportAccord and the IWGA (International World Games Association) were necessary steps. The 2014 Men's World Championship, in Denver, and the 2017 IWGA World Games, in Poland, will be important milestones for lacrosse, serving as worldwide platforms to demonstrate the sport's relevancy.
He also cited that the change in IOC leadership, with Germany's Thomas Bach elected Tuesday as the new president, replacing Jacques Rogge, who stepped down after 12 years at the helm, could signal the beginning of fresh perspective and attitude among the members.
"I'm already noticing a philosophical shift that could open new doors to non-Olympic sports," Hayes said. "The philosophy that 'nobody can come in unless somebody leaves' may be changing."
The IOC has a current cap of 28 sports for the Summer Olympics.
"Our next step remains unchanged," Hayes said. "We are filing for provisional recognition by the IOC, which requires 50 affiliated countries across three continents. We are very close to that number with the expected additions of Estonia and Jamaica pushing us to 49 countries."
Hayes says another 10 counties could potentially be joining the FIL in the not-too-distant future, and feels that the number could exceed 100 by 2024, the target year for Olympic inclusion. The host city for 2024 will be announced by the IOC in 2017.
"It's pleasing to see the support that we are starting to receive," Hayes said. "We've come a long way already, that's for sure."