German GM Vows to Quit Lacrosse if Vote Passes
Team Germany acknowledges its fans after playing Canada in the 2010 FIL World Championship in Manchester, England. (John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com)
Tim Gruenke anticipates Dec. 1 could be the day he leaves lacrosse forever.
Gruenke, general manager of Germany’s senior men’s national team, said Tuesday he would resign if the Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) proposal to bump Germany from the Blue Division at the 2014 FIL World Championship to accommodate the Iroquois Nationals passes. The FIL Board of Directors issued a postal ballot Nov. 2 that requires a two-thirds vote of 28 full-member nations for approval. Votes are due Dec. 1.
“That would be the last day of my involvement with lacrosse for my whole life, if they kick us out of Blue,” said Gruenke, who has been with the German Lacrosse Association since its inception in 1998. “I will be done — even if we participate in Denver. I will give the game back to the Creator.”
The controversy stems from the Iroquois’ forfeiture of their spot in the 2010 world championship in Manchester, England, due to a dispute over their Haudenosaunee-issued passports. Germany took their place in the Blue Division, allowing the tournament to proceed as scheduled, and finished in sixth place. The Iroquois forfeited all of their games and finished 30th.
According to the existing FIL bylaw on championship structure, that would put Germany in the Blue Division alongside the U.S., Canada, Australia, England and Japan for the US Lacrosse-hosted 2014 FIL World Championship.
The FIL announced that alignment in January and relegated the Iroquois to a lower division, causing uproar in the international lacrosse community, considering the sport’s Native American origins. The Iroquois appealed that decision twice and won a postal ballot in June that rejected the FIL decision to uphold the bylaw as stated.
"The Board interpretation of that vote was that the membership wished to see the Iroquois Nationals play in the Blue Division at the 2014 World Championship,” FIL President Stan Cockerton wrote in a letter to members that accompanied the latest postal ballot, which calls for the restoration of the existing FIL bylaw (11.1) with a one-time exception for 2014.
Gruenke believes the Iroquois belong in the Blue Division in 2014, but not at the expense of Germany.
“They are the creators of the game. They are one of the top three teams in the world. They should compete in the Blue Division,” he said.
"That would be the last day of my involvement with lacrosse for my whole life, if they kick us out of Blue. I will give the game back to the Creator."
— Tim Gruenke, general manager of the German national team
The FIL and US Lacrosse were willing to host a play-in game between the Iroquois and Germany before the formal start of the championship, but Germany indicated it would not participate. The FIL also considered expanding the Blue Division to seven or even eight teams, but that would require prolonging the tournament by two days — adding significant meal and accomodation costs for participating countries and venue costs for US Lacrosse — or forcing certain teams to play twice in one day in high altitude.
“We spent hundreds of hours trying to look at every option. We’ve done it face-to-face twice. We’ve done it over Skype calls. We’ve had people involved at just about every level. We were trying to find an answer that would be a win-win-win for everybody — for us, Germany, the Iroquois and ultimately for lacrosse. We just couldn’t find that all-encompassing solution,” Cockerton said. “Ultimately we came up with our decision which in our mind was the only fair decision for lacrosse. On a personal note, it’s not a decision that I’m happy with, because I feel bad for Germany. My heart tells me one thing, but my head tells me this is the only place we can go.”
Gruenke questioned the FIL’s decision-making process and called for more transparency. He said the June ballot did not qualify for FIL members that rejecting the bylaw to reinstate the Iroquois in the Blue Division would oust Germany.
“Since June they have not communicated with FIL member nations,” Gruenke said. “Why are you confronting us with this vote? What have you done before? Why is it Germany? Can you please make the decision process more transparent? Do you have any documentation of meeting minutes?”
Gruenke also challenged the presumption that Germany should be the team to step aside or even participate in the previously proposed play-in game.
“Why us?” he asked. “Why don’t you ask England or Australia or Japan or Canada?”
Germany’s removal from the Blue Division also comes with financial consequences for his team, Gruenke said. ESPN plans to broadcast many of the games during the world championship across its networks and via ESPN3. Most of those games will be in the Blue Division.
“When I’m talking to sponsors or [donors] to support Team Germany, they offer their support knowing we’ll be playing the Blue Division. We’ll have TV exposure,” he said.
The FIL has not determined where Germany would be placed if the latest vote passes. Gruenke said the GLA would consider boycotting the games, but he hopes it doesn’t come to that. “It will only hurt the players,” he said.
Germany also could appeal the decision to SportAccord, the umbrella organization for international sports federations. Or it could just accept the decision rendered. The team could still qualify for the medal round and a future place in the Blue Division through the play-in portion of the tournament.
“Even if I won’t be in Denver, I will prepare the team to fight for a Blue Division spot,” Gruenke said. “If we get voted out of the Blue Division, then we will use the schedule to fight back.”
Germany, coached by National Lacrosse Hall of Famer Jack Kaley, staged its second training camp earlier this month and plans to name its 23-player roster after the final tryout weekend Jan. 17-19. Germany finished in fifth place at the 2012 European Lacrosse Championships.
It has been a challenging year for the FIL and its volunteer leadership. The rigidity of the FIL’s bylaws also came into question during the 2013 Women’s World Cup. A week before the games began, the Israel Lacrosse Association announced its team would not play on the Sabbath, the Jewish holy day that starts at sundown Friday and ends at sundown Saturday. While the FIL accommodated Israel in the round robin, it declined to make adjustments to the medal round.
As a result, Israel forfeited its July 20 game with the Haudenosaunee, who wound up in seventh place.
Cockerton acknowledged that the FIL, which since the merger of the former ILF (men) and IFWLA (women) in 2008 has expanded to include 46 nations (including associate members), needs more resources to support its growth. But even that won’t keep issues like these from cropping up, he said.
SportAccord, for example, does not recognize the Haudenosaunee as a nation, Cockerton said. Nor does it recognize Wales, Scotland or England as independent nations, but rather Great Britain as one entity. If lacrosse gains Olympic recognition — Tom Hayes, the FIL’s director of development, has targeted 2024 as a potential breakthrough year — these discrepancies will resurface.
In the meantime, Cockerton said the FIL must reconsider its championship structure — including the possibility of using regional qualifiers to reduce the number of teams in the world games. While the English Lacrosse Association won the bid to bring the tournament back to Manchester in 2018, Cockerton doubts other governing bodies would be willing to take on the cost and financial risk of hosting upward of 50 countries in 2022.
“Our members have to start making decisions and supporting things that are good for the game, short term and long term,” Cockerton said. “Some of those decisions might not always be what’s good for your specific country.”