International Men

August 4, 2014
FIL president Stan Cockerton said lacrosse's Olympic pursuit may necessitate to changes to the international game. (Scott McCall)
FIL president Stan Cockerton said lacrosse's Olympic pursuit may necessitate to changes to the international game. (Scott McCall)

What's Ahead for International Lacrosse?

by Corey McLaughlin | | Twitter | McLaughlin Archive

As Federation of International Lacrosse president Stan Cockerton tells it, "We are a lot stronger federation now than we were July 1." Eight days of meetings involving member nations preceded the 2014 FIL World Championship July 10-19 in Denver, the largest international lacrosse event ever staged, at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. And a lot was accomplished off and on the field.

"I couldn't be happier with the way the event went," Cockerton said. "From a hosting perspective, US Lacrosse and the staff and 800-plus volunteers did an unbelievable job. It was professional. Everything was planned and worked out. They were faced with a lot of challenges, with the weather and hour to two-hour delays many of the days, and that went off really well.

"A lot of the corporate vendors seemed very happy; they were able to generate business. Long-term that's important for us. We want them to be happy and make some money. That means they are going to come back.

"From a member standpoint, it was really, really nice to see 38 nations there. I made a point of watching at least a half of every team, and I was very pleasantly surprised at the caliber of all levels. In my mind, we made the biggest jump, especially at the lower end. Our 38th team to 20th team, the caliber of lacrosse played was 100-percent better than it was four years ago. That's encouraging. That gap is closing all the time. The gap between 4th, 5th, 6th and the 12-16th teams, that's starting to get smaller. The only thing we have to do and I'm not sure how to tackle it, somehow we have to close that gap between the top three teams and the next eight. That's going to be a harder challenge for us. But I couldn't be happier. It was a great event."

Several big topics were addressed off the field, too, many that tie directly into lacrosse's continued pursuit of Olympic recognition. Cockerton said the FIL, which made Malaysia its 51st member nation at meetings in Denver, expects to add 2-3 nations per year. As growth continues along with the Olympic dream, changes will eventually be needed.

2024: The Olympic Goal

At pre-world championship meetings of its 38 member nations in Denver, the sport's international governing body set forth the year 2024 as a target for the Olympic inclusion of lacrosse. Since completing the first step in that process in 2008 — creating a single governing body in a merger of the ILF and IFWLA, then the men's and women's international governing bodies — the FIL, governed by a volunteer board, has ticked off several significant milestones in pursuit of the Olympic Dream.

After achieving World Anti-Doping Agency recognition, and membership of SportAccord (the association of international federations) and being tabbed a participant sport for the International World Games in Poland in 2017, FIL president Stan Cockerton said, "We have one thing left, but that last five yards is going to be tougher."

The FIL will submit its answers to the International Olympic Committee's 54-question application, the last couple of which pertained to the 2014 world championship, by Oct. 1 to become an IOC-recognized sport. FIL director of development Tom Hayes said the approval could come in January, at which point the FIL can use the iconic Olympic rings on its website and letterhead.

To become a participating Olympic sport or event is another matter. The waiting list of sports trying to get onto the 2020 Olympics schedule includes baseball/softball, karate, roller sports, sports climbing, squash, wakeboarding and wushu. Wrestling was initially on the list, too, amid controversy, but was reinstated.

"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?"

Lacrosse was last part of the Olympics in 1948, when the U.S. and Great Britain played in a demonstration game in London in a 5-5 tie. Lacrosse was a medal sport in the 1904 and 1908 games in St. Louis and London, respectively. Two teams from Canada and one from the U.S. participated in the 1904 games, won by the Winnipeg Shamrocks representing Canada. In 1908, only two teams participated and Canada beat Great Britain for the gold.

Moving Forward

There will be underlying issues to address if lacrosse 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 1990, or Wales, England or Scotland, the latter three that 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.

Hayes said about half a dozen nations are poised to join the FIL, so he didn't anticipate that being a problem. But competitive balance also will be a topic, with the U.S. and Canada combining to win all 12 of the world championships contended since 1967, and the U.S. winning nine.

Cockerton said the FIL, governed by a volunteer board, would need to beef up its infrastructure as it pursues Olympic recognition as well. If lacrosse gains Olympic recognition, it will form an Olympic Vision Committee to bring personnel with more business connections into the FIL. Cockerton estimated that $2-3 million would need to be raised to cover offices, full-time staff, international event attendance, marketing and promotional campaigns and lobbying in the interest of lacrosse.

"We're going to have to sell ourselves," Cockerton said. "There are a lot of people in the world that don't know what lacrosse is. We have to put our best foot forward and make our best case."

Tournament Format: Qualification Model?

The 2014 games were the largest international event ever, with 38 teams. But was it too big? That may be the case moving forward. FIL director of finance Ron Balls is heading up a committee to review all of the FIL's championship structures. The English Lacrosse Association has told the FIL it can accommodate up to 60 countries in Manchester, England, in 2018, but Cockerton said ultimately the FIL would like more of its member nations to have the ability to host, and a smaller number of participating teams would promote that. It would also help the Olympic pursuit.

All ideas will be on the table, including a qualifying-type model that crowns regional qualifiers to a smaller world championship bracket, like the FIFA World Cup. There will be challenges, as the FIL currently has just two allied members in the Asia Pacific Lacrosse Union and the European Lacrosse Federation. What to do with the rest of the world? The fact that member nations have traditionally had direct qualification to the world championships also has been a carrot for membership.

"We know that we have to look at it. Over the next couple years we will be taking a really hard look at how we change our structure moving forward," Cockerton said. "We'll need some fresh thoughts. There's no bad idea. We'll throw everything on the table and see what we think works for us as a federation long-term."

Rules Changes?

The low-scoring gold medal game — and boos from the home crowd elicited from long Canadian possessions — raised the topic of a shot clock in the international game, arguments similar to that lobbying for a timer in the college game. Major League Lacrosse has used a shot clock since its inception in 2001.

"I probably heard more rumblings about a 30-second, or 45-second time clock at this event more than I've ever heard," Cockerton said.

But he said any rule-change suggestions should come from member nations and, as of a couple weeks after the tournament, that hadn't happened.

"I don't know that we've had a major rule change internationally for a while," he said. "But we do have to look at that. As we move forward, not only for our international game, but for the Olympics, we have to be putting our best foot forward on the field as well. What's going to be the best way to sell the game?"

Women to Play in 2017 World Games

The 2017 IWGA World Games in Wroclaw, Poland, an international multi-sport event held in front of IOC personnel, will include women's lacrosse, Cockerton said, as voted on unanimously by the FIL members.

Originally, when the IWGA named lacrosse a participant sport in April, the FIL hoped to include four men's and four women's teams, but the IWGA had a need for women's participants in the games to satisfy a 50-50 gender balance in its games, and asked the FIL for four to six women's teams. FIL membership weighed the issue, and ultimately decided exposing lacrosse to more of the international sporting community was important.

The IWGA has designated 102 slots for lacrosse participants. The FIL was working through what teams to send, especially with the FIL Women's World Cup also being held in the summer of 2017 in England, about a month before the IWGA games.

"It's up to us to figure out the final details of the World Games, how many teams," Cockerton said. "But that was big thing for us. That commitment from the members was crucial for us. It's very important to our long-term strategy of being back in the Olympics. If we didn't participate in the World Games in 2017, although [the IWGA] told us they understood our conflict with the women's championship, it won't reflect on future ones in a negative way. But in our opinion that would have put us four years behind our Olympic vision."

The IWGA World Games is a separate event from FIL events, like the men's and women's world championships and under-19 world championships.

German Reconciliation

The FIL General Assembly also responded to a motion put forth by the German lacrosse association in reaction to it being voted out of the Blue Division in favor of the Iroquois Nationals heading into the 2014 world championship. Germany said it would lose revenue it otherwise would have gained by playing in the Blue Division. The Iroquois, who technically placed last in the 2010 world championship in England after missing the games amid a passport controversy, originally were not in the top-flight Blue Division, under FIL bylaws, but were voted in by member nations last December.

Germany, which finished sixth in 2010, was the odd nation out.

"That had put a little bit of a wedge between some of our members," Cockerton said. "We're a lot better off and a lot stronger as a federation when we're all working together. Germany brought a motion to the table to help alleviate some of their financial concerns based on the decision. The members unanimously approved that. They are feeling better. The members understand how devastated they were; they reacted and are helping them out. We can start the healing process now. To me, that's important. Our success internationally has been working together for development and being positive and doing what's best for international lacrosse. That decision helped us get back on track. That was very good."

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