Lacrosse in the Olympics?

Lacrosse in the Olympics?

            The summer of 2022 saw plenty of momentum for the dream of having lacrosse in the Olympics. A new discipline – Sixes (a hybrid of box and field) – was created and put on display. Sixes is fast and high scoring; an ideal combination for spectators and television viewers who may not have much exposure to lacrosse. In addition, with fewer players, team sizes are smaller, which makes it a better fit for the Athletes’ village. Sixths was on full display in Birmingham, Alabama at the World Games. The World Games are a large multi-sport event for sports that are not currently in the Olympics, but offer a pathway to inclusion. 29 teams participated at the Senior Women’s field lacrosse world championships in Maryland and 23 teams participated at U20 Men’s Field lacrosse worlds in Ireland. Both events saw large increases in the number of participating countries. Domestically, box lacrosse was reinstated at the Canada Games for boys for the first time since 1985 and the first time ever for girls. The Canada Games are a large multi-sport event that is seen by Sport Canada as a necessary preparatory step towards the Olympics. 

Despite this momentum, lacrosse faces several challenges that will likely prevent it from becoming an Olympics sport. Some of these challenges are unique to lacrosse, and the others are from the Olympics movement. The first challenge is that several of the World Lacrosse members are ineligible for the Olympics. England, Scotland, and Wales are all independent members of World Lacrosse and have their own teams at the lacrosse world championships, but in the Olympics would have to combine under Great Britain. This is no big deal because they do the same thing in soccer.

But the bigger issue is the Haudenosaunee. The Haudenosaunee are the ancestors of the creators of lacrosse and should, of course, be present at any major lacrosse event. However, recent history tells us that it is politically complicated. Initially the Haudenosaunee were disqualified from the World Games because they do not have a National Olympics Committee. It was only through a special dispensation, and the gracious withdrawal of the Ireland team, that they were able to participate. This was on the heels of the infamous 2010 Senior Men’s field lacrosse worlds in Manchester when the Haudenosaunee passport was not accepted by the British government and the team was unwilling to travel on Canadian or American passports. This almost occurred again in 2018 in Israel, but it was worked out diplomatically by the Israeli and Canadian governments. It is not just international competitions, at the 2022 Canada Games, there was no Haudenosaunee team, and instead their players and coaches had to participate on a provincial team.

Lacrosse people see the inclusion of the Haudenosaunee as a no brainer. But sport federations (domestically and internationally) do not see it that way. Canada Games officials were worried about the precedent for a separate team in lacrosse spreading to other sports. The Olympics, and their affiliated national sport federations (controlled by national governments), was worried that this would open the door to other Indigenous communities demanding their own team at the Olympics. It is estimated that there are more than 5, 000 different Indigenous peoples across the world. Would they all be allowed to send teams in different sports to the Olympics?

Another challenge is the number of countries that are members of World Lacrosse. While the number keeps rising (currently 78) it is still less than half of members of the United Nations. Making it one of the smaller sport federations. In addition, it is not geographically distributed. Membership is dominated in North America/Caribbean and Europe, and Africa, in particular, with only six members is greatly underrepresented.

A final challenge that is lacrosse-specific is the lack of competitive balance. The sport is dominated by the United States and Canada. Australia has won a few gold medals in women’s field, and the Haudenosaunee has made it to the championship game in indoor. Overall, across indoor, sixes, men’s field (senior and junior), and women’s field (senior and junior), here are the number of gold and silver championships by team.

Gold and Silver Medals at World Lacrosse Championships

United States











This is the same challenge faced by women’s hockey, but hockey is balanced by a more competitive men’s division. In addition, maintaining female sports and winter sports are two priorities of the Olympics. For a summer sport that is uncompetitive in both female and male divisions, lacrosse is at a severe disadvantage.

However, it is not just the sport of lacrosse that is a challenge for inclusion in the Olympics. It is also the entire Olympics movement.  The cost of hosting the Olympics, especially the summer games, has become exorbitant. This is due to the increased size (due to more events, more countries, and more athletes) and heightened security. Citizens in western democratic countries are now rebelling against paying the cost of hosting the games. As a consequence, anti-democratic countries such as China and Russia are more likely willing to host. This raises issues of boycotts and other forms of political opposition. Finally, the International Olympics Committee is seen by many as corrupt. In the past, IOC members have accepted bribes, turned a blind eye to cheating (ie., rampant steroid use), and ignored human rights abuses in host countries.     

Lacrosse fans want to see their sport in the Olympics because it is a status symbol. A sign that you have made it among the world’s top sports. This also leads to greater exposure and increased participation. And in Canada it also leads to increased funding. However, the Olympics is as much about politics as it is sport. And these political barriers will likely prevent lacrosse from participating in the Olympics.   

About the author

Duane Bratt is a long-time player, coach, referee, and administrator in both box and men's field. Duane started playing minor lacrosse in Calgary in 1975. He also played junior lacrosse with the Aurora Stallions JrB team, senior lacrosse in Alberta with the Calgary Mountaineers SrB team, and men’s field at the University of Windsor. At a national level, he is the Canadian Lacrosse Association's National Resource Person for Coaching (designing coaching programs and developing resources) and the Chair of its Long-Term Athlete Development Committee. He is also on the board of the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame. At a provincial level, he is currently the President of the Rocky Mountain Lacrosse League. At a club level, he is President of the Calgary JrA Mountaineers. Duane has been a Master Learning Facilitator and Evaluator for well over a decade. Finally, Duane has been a referee for forty years.

Highlights of Duane's career include being awarded the James McFall Memorial Award to become a Life Member of the Alberta Lacrosse Association (2009), coaching the Calgary Boykiws to the Ross Cup - Canadian Senior A Men's Field Lacrosse Champions (2010), receiving the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for his work in lacrosse (2012),  winning the Coach Developer of the year award from Alberta Sport Connection (2015), and being awarded the Investors Group National NCCP Coach Developer Award (2017) from the Coaching Association of Canada.

Duane is also a professor of political science at Mount Royal University.