For many years, the lacrosse community has been pushing the sport to return to the summer Olympics for many obvious reasons. As a quickly growing sport, lacrosse will greatly benefit from the attention and publicity Olympics brings to the ecosystem. Additionally, the Olympics gives the lacrosse community an opportunity to access the international audience (outside of the US and Canada) lacrosse is lacking today.
In this post, let’s explore lacrosse’s relationship with the Olympics and what we, as members of the lacrosse community, can expect going forward.
Lacrosse’s history with the Olympics
Despite its growing popularity recently, lacrosse is one of the oldest running sports in the world. And in fact, throughout its long history, it was included in the playbill twice as a medal sport in the 1904 and 1908 Olympics and it was a demonstration sport in the 1928, 1932 and 1948 Olympics.
In both the 1904 and 1908 Olympics, only three countries, Canada, the UK and the US participated in the competition. The 1904 Olympics at St. Louis, Missouri had three teams competing in lacrosse, two teams from Canada and one team from the US. Two Canada teams were the Shamrock from Winnipeg, Mohawk Indians. One US team was St Louis Amateur Athletic Association. Canada ended up winning the gold medal, marking Canada the first country in history to win the gold medal for lacrosse.
Four years later in the 1908 London Olympics, only Canada and the UK participated. Canada took home the gold medal once again. In total, there were 5 teams that played in Olympic lacrosse and Canada men’s lacrosse won both times. Unfortunately, women’s lacrosse wasn’t included in 1904 and 1908 although women’s lacrosse at the high school and collegiate levels started to blossom.
What you can see is that compared to the most popular sports like soccer, basketball, lacrosse has a high concentration in North America and the UK regions. Which then leads to the topic of the next section.
What keeps lacrosse outside the Olympics
As alluded to earlier, one major problem lies in the lacrosse’ unbalanced popularity and familiarity outside the US and Canada. One important criterion to be included in the Olympics is global awareness and participation in a certain sport. It requires the sport to have both a strong international fan base and international level recognition.
This is the biggest hurdle lacrosse needs to overcome. Another important concern the lacrosse community needs to address is the imbalance between men’s and women’s lacrosse. As we know men’s and women’s lacrosse differ largely when it comes to game rules. How to bring the two versions of lacrosse closer together is a challenge to overcome before being featured in the Olympics.
Lastly, lacrosse needs to increase the number of countries that play lacrosse officially to 75 countries by men and 40 countries by women to meet inclusion requirements. As of 2021, there are in total 70 countries.
Lacrosse & The Olympics in 2022
To return to the Olympics, lacrosse must seek an international federation to administer and regulate the sport to ensure inclusion. This then prompted the creation of the Federation of International Lacrosse, now called World Lacrosse. Its goal is to get lacrosse into the 2028 Olympics that will be held in Los Angeles, US where lacrosse has the highest level of popularity and familiarity.
As an important step toward this ambition and continued growth of lacrosse, in 2018 the International Olympic Committee (IOC) voted to grant full recognition to the international federation for lacrosse. At the same time, lacrosse gained its provisional status so that the sport could receive funding from the IOC for further development.
World Lacrosse Sixes
There’s one unique and odd rule according to the Olympic guidelines, which is a cap on the number of athletes to participate. In the summer Olympics, there have to be no more than 10,500 athletes and 310 events. Hence, to create a version of lacrosse that’s more suitable and appealing for the Olympics, World Lacrosse formally introduced, World Lacrosse Six in May 2021. Check out its promo video below:
It has quickly become a great alternative to field lacrosse that players are familiar with. Instead of 10 players, 6 players are required on the field per team with 1 goalie and 5 short stick field players. Fewer players also mean a smaller field which is 70 meters long and 36 meters wide. The game will start with a draw. You can find the entire rulebook here. Based on my observation, this will further pick up the pace of game progression whether it’s defensive or offensive play. The ball will also exchange hands more frequently.
How can we contribute
As active members of the lacrosse community, how can we help to make lacrosse become a more widely recognized sport around the world? One thing you could do this summer is to go support the 2022 World Games held in Birmingham, Alabama. Women’s lacrosse is on the official program while men’s lacrosse will be featured as an invitational sport. The outcome of this event will have a significant impact on making the case for lacrosse to return once again to the Olympics in 2028.
For players who are in high school or college, consider bringing a lacrosse stick with you on a study abroad trip. Make friends in a new country by teaching them about lacrosse. There’s no better way to continue increasing the awareness and popularity of this sport around the world than we contribute individually.
In conclusion, we still have time before lacrosse is played as a demonstration sport in the 2028 Olympics at the same time lacrosse is constantly evolving. I am confident there will be more good news coming so before then, let’s enjoy the joy and excitement of lacrosse.