With Lacrosse Olympic Dreaming, Team USA Gets a Taste
FIL sets 2024 target for Olympic recognition
|The U.S. men's national team
visited the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs,
Colo., on the same day the Federation of International Lacrosse
(FIL) set the year 2024 as a target for Olympic recognition of
lacrosse. (Thomas Kimmell)
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – The Olympic Dream is still just that for lacrosse, but for one night, the U.S. men's national team got a taste of what it could feel like.
The members of Team USA, plus coaches and support staff got a first-hand look at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs on Monday night during an off-field break from a four-day training camp at the Air Force Academy, being held as part of final preparations for 2014 Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) World Championship in Denver.
No doubt Thursday night's opening game against Canada was on their minds, as they were wished luck by U.S. Olympic Committee officials about it during a guided tour of the facilities, and were also reminded how Canada knocked off both the men's and women's U.S. hockey teams in Sochi, Russia. No pressure.
But the setting also provided a backdrop for a larger question about lacrosse's potential place in the Olympic structure.
Attackman Kevin Leveille, team captain and oldest member of the U.S. set to play in his first world championships at age 34, lit a symbolic torch atop one of the buildings at the facility. At the start of the night, when a montage of U.S. Olympic highlights from over the years was shown to the team in an auditorium, training center staff mentioned the fact that lacrosse should be part of the video next time around.
The idea was met with applause.
About an hour's drive north to Denver, the same concept was on the table at the FIL's general assembly meetings, inclusive of 50 member nations, a literal crossroads of the lacrosse world. Among the items discussed was a target year of 2024 for possible Olympic recognition. It's a mark longtime FIL director of development Tom Hayes has been shooting for, as the FIL has ticked off milestone moments and baseline criteria for the sport to be recognized on the biggest international level possible.
In 2012, SportAccord, an umbrella organization for Olympic, non-Olympic, and international sports federations, accepted the FIL as a member. In 2013, the International World Games Association (IWGA) did the same and in April lacrosse was accepted as a participant sport in the IWGA World Games in Wroclaw, Poland, in 2017, a multi-sport event that can serve as a showcase for the sport in front of International Olympic Committee members.
"The future looks good," said Hayes, the Hall of Fame coach, formerly of Rutgers, Penn State and Drexel, who is in his 40th year involved in international lacrosse. "It's like you're in a dream. We've hit our target dates right on the money, every one of them. Now we're wondering, there has to be some road bump somewhere, but who knows? If you're a hot sport and they see the growth, not only in the number of countries but number of participants, who knows?"
The format for lacrosse's inclusion in the IWGA World Games is still to be determined, with details to be worked out with respect to number and size of teams, if it will include both men's and women's lacrosse and if it would affect the FIL championship calendar as 2017 is slated to be a Women's World Cup year. In any event, "We need to expose the sport to people that have never seen it before," Hayes said.
With a record 38 nations participating in the 2014 FIL World Championship, and more than 200 festival clubs doing the same in the backyard of the U.S. Olympic complex, lacrosse also has a unique close-up opportunity in front of international stakeholders in Denver over the next two weeks.
The head of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, Travis Tygert, will be on hand along with senior staff from the U.S. Olympic Committee, World Anti-Doping Agency and SportAccord.
"It's a great opportunity to showcase the game and raise awareness about the sport," said Steve Stenersen, president and CEO of US Lacrosse, who was voted as new vice president of the FIL during the general assembly meetings. Whether the scope of the world championships and its location furthers lacrosse's Olympic dream remains to be seen, but "it's not going to hurt," Stenersen said.
"It's like you're in a dream. We've hit our target dates right on the money, every one of them. Now we're wondering, there has to be some road bump somewhere, but who knows?"
– FIL director of development Tom Hayes
There is still a lot of work to be done to return lacrosse to the Olympics for the first time since 1948, when it was last played a demonstration sport. It was a medal sport in the 1904 and 1908 games.
FIL director of finance Ron Balls presented to the 50 member nations of the general assembly the next steps in the process.
There are 54 specific questions to respond to in an Olympic application, covering a variety of criteria, including but not limited to governance of the sport, history and tradition, popularity, geographic demographics and finances. Hayes said the application may actually be easier than that needed to join SportAccord, which required a 259-page application asking for information on many of the same topics.
The FIL will need to submit its complete file by Oct. 1 to be reviewed by SportAccord on behalf of the International Olympic Committee. The IOC Executive Board, which reviews applications once per year, can grant provisional recognition. Hayes expects to hear back by January.
"We should get it," Hayes said of the provisional recognition. "They like us. We're a hot sport. Once that happens, we can put the five rings on our website. That's huge. We can't put it on our shirts yet. You have to be in the actual games themselves but when you're provisional they allow you to do that."
Full recognition, the ultimate step, would come after.
"It's all about the mission, but also it's a business," Stenersen said of the IOC. "A lot of decisions are based on practicality and business considerations. What type of infrastructure is required to host a particular sport? How much is that going to cost? How long does the competition take, how many athletes are involved? There's a lot of practical considerations involved as well. At the end of the day, one of the considerations may also be how can this help the financial position of the games? Is that going to be something that can be monetized? Not every sport fits that mold, but that is a consideration. We'll see."
There will be underlying issues to address if lacrosse ever does reach the Olympic stage. The IOC does not recognize the Iroquois Nationals, the originators of the sport who have competed in the world championships since the 1990, or Wales, England or Scotland, the latter three which are part of Great Britain in Olympic competition. That means the FIL would need 54 nations to keep up with the minimum 50 needed for Olympic recognition. On Tuesday, the FIL welcomed Malaysia as its 51st member and Hayes said about half a dozen are in the pipeline so he didn't anticipate that being a problem. But competitive balance will also be a topic, with the U.S. and Canada combining to win all 11 of the world championships contended since 1967, and the U.S. winning nine.
"We're still taking baby steps," Hayes said. "That's all part of it. It's what any federation needs to do. But I don't think it's a matter of if, it's a matter of when."
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