Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

16.12 8 Sep 2020


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Giving up Ireland's spot in a major international lacrosse tournament was 'the right thing to do', the head of Ireland Lacrosse has said.

Ireland's lacrosse team was due to play at the 2022 World Games in Birmingham, Alabama, but has now forfeited its place to let another team - the Iroquois Nationals - take part instead.

The Iroquois are a Native American confederacy of six tribes, mainly based around northern New York and southern Canada.

Other Native American tribes play versions of stick games, but the most common version of modern lacrosse - a stick-and-ball sport described as a mix between hurling and ice hockey - emerged from the Iroquois.

Michael Kennedy, CEO of Ireland Lacrosse, spoke to Moncrieff today.

Why Ireland's lacrosse team gave up their spot in a major tournament

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In terms of lacrosse generally, he explained: "It's still a very small sport [in Ireland], but globally... it's hugely popular in the US and Canada. It's actually very big in the UK... places like Germany, Japan etc...

"I would describe it as a combination between hurling and ice hockey... similar to ice hockey, you can actually play behind the net."

Ireland qualified for one of eight places in the 2022 tournament based on their performance in a 2018 championship in Israel.

The Irish team actually finished in 12th place, but four others - including the Iroquois Nationals, the team that finished third - were deemed ineligible.

Mr Kennedy explained: "They're not recognised as a sovereign nation. They don't have a local Olympic committee... they're not recognised by the International Olympic Committee. They weren't considered for an invite to the event in 2022, on the basis of that assumption.

"There were other teams - like Puerto Rico and the Philippines - which finished ahead of us in 2018, but at that time they were only associate members of World Lacrosse... their finish couldn't apply to future rankings.

"Scotland finished one ahead of us... but again applying the Olympic eligibility criteria, they would join up with England and Wales to participate as Team GB in the 2022 event."

'We owe them the game of lacrosse'

It was the ineligibility of the Iroquois Nationals that really stuck, given the cultural and spiritual significance of the game to the Iroquois.

Mr Kennedy said: "We owe the game of lacrosse to the Iroquois. They invented it - they said they received the game from the Creator.

"The Iroquois really represent the heart and soul of the game of lacrosse."

The Iroquois team and fans began a social media campaign pushing to be included in the tournament - a campaign which ultimately led to the key international lacrosse bodies expressing their openness to having the team participate.

However, that wasn't possible unless one team lost their spot.

For Ireland, the 'writing was on the wall' - and they decided to do the right thing.

Mr Kennedy said: "If the Iroquois came back in - taking back a place which is rightfully theirs - as we were the final position team, it would be our spot in the event that was at risk.

"The right thing for us to do as that final-placed team is to simply vacate our position, and create a pathway for the Iroquois to join that event."

Looking ahead

Mr Kennedy now says the attention they've received since giving up their place means there's almost "more being gained from not participating at all in the event if we'd just gone ahead".

It also shouldn't impact on Ireland's place in the world rankings, as the next World Championship isn't due to take place until 2023.

In the meantime, there has been plenty of contact between Ireland and the Iroquois.

Mr Kennedy said: "Something they've done lately is taken their logo... usually their colours are purple and gold... but they took that logo and created a version which is green, white and orange.

"We're going to be selling t-shirts: we'll split the proceeds between us both to help youth lacrosse development for both of our programmes."

Ireland had been due to host an international tournament at the University of Limerick this year, but it has been postponed until next year due to COVID-19.

While the Iroquois will be participating in the main event, organisers are now hoping there'll be a festival tournament to coincide with it - allowing more Native American teams to come to Ireland and participate.

Main image: File photo of Ireland players taking part in a training session during the 2018 World Lacrosse Championship at the Orde Wingate Institute for Physical Education and Sports in Netanya, Israel, 19 July 2018. Picture by: Ilia Yefimovich/DPA/PA Images

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