Simply put, yes, lacrosse is an Olympic sport. It has not always been contested at the Olympic games, but there have been a handful of years where it was featured. As a summer sport, Lacrosse offers fast-paced and strategic play and is popular in many countries around the world.
Lacrosse as we know it today began as a sport played by native American tribes. It was spread to European settlers in North America by Jesuit missionaries in the 17th century. Since then, field lacrosse has been featured at a number of summer Olympic games over the years.
But lacrosse still struggles to be recognized and properly included in the Olympic playbill. There are a number of reasons, but in order to understand them, we need to take a look at the history of the sport.
When was lacrosse contested at the Olympics?
There are two instances when field lacrosse was contested as a medal event at the Olympic games. This was once in 1904 and again in 1908. Although only a handful of teams participated, it proved popular enough to be featured in two consecutive summer games.
The 1904 games took place in St. Louis, Missouri. Only three teams participated, two of them being Canadian. The two Canadian teams were the Winnipeg Shamrocks and a team of Mohawk players from the Iroquois Confederacy.
The Amateur Athletic Association of St. Louis provided their own local team to represent the United States at the event. Canada ended up taking home the gold medal, making them the first country in history to win the gold for lacrosse at the Olympics.
The event was next held at the 1908 games in London, England. The only two teams who participated were Canada and Great Britain. Once again, Canada ended up taking home the gold. This means that out of the five teams who have ever participated in Olympic medal lacrosse, every one has received a medal.
Canada, of course, has three out of the five medals, due to them competing with three out of the five teams. It comes as no surprise, since the sport originated in Canada and even enjoys the status of being Canada’s national sport!
Lacrosse was also held as a demonstration event at several subsequent Summer Olympics. These demonstrations were held at the 1928, 1932, and 1948 Summer Games. For the 1928 and 1932 games, the Johns Hopkins Blue Jays men’s team represented the United States. In 1948, the US was instead represented by the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
These later demonstration games actually garnered increased attention from Canada and Great Britain, who both sent all-star teams to compete. The final exhibition ended in a 5-5 tie between the US and Great Britain.
Lacrosse and the Olympics today
Since the 1948 summer game demonstration, Lacrosse has struggled to gain inclusion in the Olympic canon. Unfortunately, one of the main hurdles standing in the way of the sport being included is the lack of international interest. There simply aren’t enough teams to keep the sport competitive and interesting at the Olympics.
That is all changing, however, as the sport gains popularity in Canada and around the world. There was an effort made to have the sport included in the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta, Georgia. There was also a push for it to be included in the subsequent 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, but neither effort was successful.
Most recently, the International Olympic Committee voted in 2018 to provisionally recognize the Federation of International Lacrosse. This shows that there is growing interest in lacrosse worldwide, and that the Olympic Committee is keen to recognize it.
This was probably the most important step the sport has taken in modern times towards being officially recognized by the Olympics. In fact, the Federation hopes to have the sport once again included as a medal event by the 2028 Summer Games.
Some pressing concerns remain
Even though the sport is gaining popularity and international recognition, there are still some problems with including it in the Olympic Games. The reason the game was removed in the first place is that inclusion requires international recognition.
A sport must also be administered and regulated by an international federation to ensure it follows the Olympic charter in order to be considered for inclusion as a medal sport. It was this reason why lacrosse was relegated to a demonstration sport for the 1928, 1932, and 1948 games.
Now, with the International Federation of Lacrosse being recognized, all the pieces are in place once more for the sport to be properly included in the Olympic games. However, some steps still need to be taken. Most importantly, there needs to be an effort made to balance men’s and women’s lacrosse teams.
There is also the issue of the number of teams. Although lacrosse is played on every continent today, there are still only 63 countries that play the sport officially. For this reason, efforts to include the sport in 1996 and 2000 failed to garner enough support.
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What other sports have struggled for inclusion?
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The struggle for inclusion in the Olympic games is not unique to lacrosse. In fact, it is common for many sports to go through a kind of Olympic limbo, where they struggle to be included for various political or logistical reasons.
Most recently, for the planned Tokyo games in 2020, a number of sports have been given the go-ahead to compete as medal events for the Summer Olympics. These include native Japanese sports such as karate, and even sports like surfing, sport climbing, and softball.
So how did these sports manage to do it when lacrosse is still struggling? Well, these sports have received te international presence and approval that the Olympic Committee requires in order to include a sport. Unfortunately, it’s as simple as that.
However, with the FIL being internationally recognized, lacrosse can now receive financial support from the International Olympic Committee, as well as apply for development programs. This means that countries participating in international lacrosse can also apply for financial support in order to create more opportunities for lacrosse in countries across the globe!
The FIL is also experimenting with normalizing their regulations according to Olympic guidelines. This requires new divisions and regulation between men’s and women’s lacrosse. The reason for this is that it would put the sport more in line with how the Olympic competitions are featured.
Oddly enough, one of the more difficult rules to follow is the limit on athletes. The IOC actually restricts the number of participants in the Summer Games to 10,500 athletes and 310 events. This means that without limiting the number of participants on a team, it becomes less likely that your sport will ultimately be included in the events.
With any luck, the FIL will be able to come up with regulations that keep the sport interesting, while also helping it to qualify for Olympic consideration. Hopefully they can pull it together in time for the 2028 games in Los Angeles.
Since the game seems to be picking up traction, it’s likely only a matter of time. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to fire away in the comments section.