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July 19, 2010

Video: Iroquois Lax Hopes Good Karma Comes

by Matt DaSilva and Clare Lochary | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

MANCHESTER, England -- The 2010 FIL World Championships here in Manchester have been marked as much by the absence of one nation as it has the presence of 29 others.

The Iroquois Nationals on Sunday officially withdrew from the world games following a weeklong faceoff with the U.S. and British governments over their Confederacy-issued passports.

Six Nations players have traveled on Iroquois passports for decades. They say it validates them as members of a sovereign nation. But the British Consulate would not allow them out of New York, as their passports do not meet post-9/11 security standards.

Mark Burnham was the Iroquois team captain in five previous world championships.

“You work for four years to get to this point and then all that works for nothing,” said assistant coach Mark Burnham, the Iroquois team captain in five previous world championships. “It’s unfortunate that politics were involved in something that should be the farthest point from the game or sports.”

Burnham is part of the Iroquois contingent that arrived in Manchester before the players’ passport hold-up.

“It’s a whole lot of emotions. You’re happy because all the different people who treat us so well stop us and ask us and are genuinely concerned,” said Nationals assistant coach Bob Leary. “But for the guys who were going their first year and the guys you don’t know this might have been their last, it’s tough thinking of them. “

That the Creator’s Game goes on without its founding people has left people here at a loss.

“I feel bad or the guys that have given up so much time and sacrificed themselves – made it to a ton of practices and training camps like ourselves to be in right frame of mind, the right shape, to come over world championships to compete,” said Team USA co-captain Ryan Powell. “It looks like they might not get an opportunity to do that, so I feel bad for them.”

Said Team Germany head coach Jack Kaley: “I feel terrible for the Iroquois because I know how hard they worked to get that independent status. It’s just another black eye in the history of them being denied opportunities. In the 21st century, you expect something different than that. I hope they come back again. It’s their game! We’re playing their game, and our politics denied them the ability to participate in their game. Just terrible.”
Where one door closes, however, another opens. Kaley was in the middle of a shower the night before the games when opportunity knocked. The FIL wanted to bump Germany, a lacrosse nation on the rise, to the top flight in place of the Iroquois.

He posed the question to his players.

 “You could hear by their roar that it was a yes, an overwhelming yes,” he said.

Team USA defeated Germany on Sunday, 22-4. But the excited Germans were no worse for the wear.

“It was really exciting to play them,” said 18-year-old goalkeeper Philipp Maas. “We know that we have a good chance with the big teams. It’s a great experience. We are the first German team to play America and Canada, and it’s a great thing.”

The Iroquois Nationals here in Manchester also hope their loss can be another indigenous people’s gain. In a traditional ceremony Sunday, they donated exclusive team apparel to the Peruvian Lacrosse Association for raffle to raise funds and help spread their game there.

“They wanted to help out anyway they can to bring some good karma back home to their guys,” said Lax Peru co-founder Shane Reed, who was living and teaching in Peru when he noticed natives’ enthusiasm for a new game.

Reed was peddling his new LaxPeru wares here in hopes of raising funds to start a team there.

 “We had started to think we wouldn’t be able to compete for a gold medal in the tournament. That was a night of despair for the three of us that are represented,” Leary said. “I woke up in and was tired of feeling sorry for myself about it.  I’m really proud to be on this staff. It’s a blessing. It’s a tremendous honor and responsibility to represent Oren Lyons and all the players. I wanted to make something good happen out of the sadness, to grow something better.”

Said Burnham: “It’s the Creator’s game. It’s a friendly game. We try to still let the people think it’s a part of culture, as well as somebody else’s, as we try to support the game throughout the nations.”

This year’s Iroquois lacrosse team was believed to be the strongest in program history.

“We’ve seen our competition,” Leary said. “We would have been one of the strongest sides here and one of the strongest sides we ever had. We’ll be stronger for this at the end somehow.”

How good would the Iroquois have been?

 “Ask the people that kept us from being here,” Burnham said. “Maybe they have the answers.”


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