Iroquois Nationals Play a Decisive Game July 17 at the 2012 Lacrosse World Championships
Newsflash: Iroquois Nationals beat the U.S. lacrosse team today (July 17) 15–13. The Nationals advance seeded in the winners' bracket. Here's today's scorecard.
With a record of two wins and one loss so far in the 2012 World Lacrosse Championships in Turku, Finland, the Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team is making a powerful statement in world sports. The next question is, When will it play in the Olympics?
In the first three games of the championships, which run through July 21, the Iroquois Nationals crushed England, came back for a decisive win over Australia, and in a dramatic match lost narrowly to powerhouse Canada. In their next game on July 17, the Nationals take on the U.S. team to advance from divisional play to a berth in the winners' bracket of the 12-nation tournament.
As an expression of Haudenosaunee sovereignty, the team travels with Iroquois Confederacy passports. During the last championships, held in Manchester, England, in 2010, the British government denied the team visas. This year, the team received a warm welcome from spectators mindful of that diplomatic debacle. The next step for the team will be to play lacrosse as an official sport in the Olympics—though not during the London games starting July 27.
It’s an often overlooked fact that the sport, invented and still played with great spirit by American Indians, was once an official Olympic sport. And an Iroquois team once competed and won an Olympic medal.
The Third Olympiad, in St. Louis in 1904, held a three-way lacrosse tournament including an all-Iroquois team from Brantford, Ontario. Since competitors at the time were not entered as national teams, the Iroquois represented their club and their Haudenosaunee affiliation, not Canada. The team finished third, winning the bronze medal. Information on the team is sparse, since it submitted a roster of obvious pseudonyms, such as “Flat Iron” and “Man Afraid Soap.”
The 1908 London Olympics also hosted a lacrosse tournament, but no American Indian team was entered and none of the Canadian or U.S. players were identifiably Native. The cost of travel to London very likely discouraged Native participation. The Olympics dropped lacrosse thereafter as an official sport, because of the limited number of countries that played it.
But lacrosse made a few subsequent appearances as an Olympic exhibition or demonstration sport: in Amsterdam in 1928; Los Angeles in 1932; London in 1948, the last time the games were held there; and Los Angeles again in 1984. At the 1932 games, Olympic organizers were allowed two demonstration sports, one domestic and one foreign; they chose football as the domestic sport and lacrosse as the foreign. (The rationale was that lacrosse was played only on the East Coast, not in California.) The lacrosse federation originally projected a competition for Indian teams. At some point before try-outs in Long Island, the federation switched to an all-star Haudenosaunee team. Then, under somewhat murky circumstances, national lacrosse officials decided that too many of the Iroquois players had professional backgrounds, and the team was not allowed to compete in Los Angeles.
Although the sport fell into Olympic limbo, it has exploded in popularity in recent years. With widespread high school and college play and several professional leagues, lacrosse is now a major North American sport with increasing presence worldwide. It is again knocking on the Olympic door. The requirement for consideration is a viable presence in 34 countries. National lacrosse committees are now active in 32 countries, including the Haudenosaunee National team. A modest proposal: If more Indian nations fielded teams, such as a Choctaw or Cherokee team, they could easily boost the sport over the Olympic threshold and restore its place in the premiere world athletic arena.
To follow the World Championships, go to the 2012 World Championships website, which is giving live scorecards for ongoing games. For news on the Iroquois team and links to other sites about the sport, visit Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse. Indian Country Today (ICT) is providing thorough text and photographic coverage; ICT's excellent background story on Iroquois Nationals team and the 2012 tournament here.
Team scores to date
Iroquois 24 – England 2
Canada 11 – Iroquois 9
Iroquois 17 – Australia 9
Jim Adams, senior historian at the National Museum of the American Indian, is the curator of the exhibition Best in the World: Native Athletes in the Olympics, on view at the museum in Washington, D.C., through September 3.