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Politics and pride at the World Lacrosse

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Ollie Williams | 08:19 UK time, Saturday, 17 July 2010

It came as a sad surprise, travelling to Manchester for the World Lacrosse Championships, to learn that the Iroquois team would not get there in time for their opening game against England.

What's worse is that it seems to have been a surprise for the Iroquois, too.

The Native Americans were barred from entering the UK because British immigration officials do not recognise their Iroquois Confederacy passports, and the team refuse to register for American or Canadian passports on principle.

Talks between the various parties are ongoing and the Iroquois - credited with helping to invent the sport of lacrosse - may yet make an appearance at the first World Championships to be held in Europe.

But while the mood in Manchester is one of sadness that such a respected team are missing out, even the rain hasn't dampened a colourful, vibrant tournament and a sport nothing like the one some casual spectators expect to see.

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England players say they are sad not to be facing the Iroquois, after they begin the World Lacrosse Championships with victory over Germany

"First and foremost [we feel] enormous disappointment for the Iroquois. Their players will be hugely disappointed not to have made the trip," said Tom Wenham, defensive coach for the English team, playing as hosts for the first time.

"But it's a huge surprise if I'm honest. Our understanding from our own international travel is that the details are sorted out well in advance. We don't know enough about what's gone on and why the issue has come about. We're just really sorry for those guys that it has."

The Iroquois have travelled abroad with their passports before, most notably to Australia for the 2002 World Championships, but rules governing passports have recently tightened in North America, and Britain says it is abiding by that tougher legislation.

This, however, appears not to have been communicated to the Iroquois, and nor do they seem to have been proactive in checking their travel arrangements in the weeks and months leading up to the tournament.

The Iroquois may yet turn up if an agreement can be found. In their absence, Germany were promoted to the tournament's top division to face England on opening night, suffering a 12-3 pounding at the hands of the hosts in miserable Manchester weather. If nothing else, the Iroquois got to stay dry for a few more days.

The show goes on without them and, while the World Lacrosse is making the news for the wrong reasons, that should not spoil the moment for an England team with a real chance of winning a medal.

After their resounding opening victory, I spent a morning with the English players as they enjoyed a "rest day", watching the golf on TV, in a student dormitory given over for their use.

Two themes developed, the first being the lack of understanding of their sport in this country.

"Not a great deal of people know their lacrosse. And if they do, they know ladies' lacrosse, which is a very, very different sport," said Mark Reynolds, a veteran of 13 years in an England jersey and one of the team's two captains.

"We use sticks and a ball like the ladies, but men's lacrosse is very much more physical. Women's lacrosse is like hockey, men's lacrosse is like ice hockey."

"They've either seen the girl's game and think it's soft, or they think it's played with fishing nets," added goalkeeper Ben McAllister.

"According to [team-mate] Tom Williamson the game is like quidditch, but I'm not convinced of that. You just get to hit people with sticks and throw a ball pretty fast."

Williamson, a 23-year-old England defender, rebuffs this attack on his theory: "I'm trying to get it out to the young people of the world! Harry Potter is well-known and quidditch is fast... throwing a ball about... it's very similar.

"Obviously you're not on a broomstick. Apart from that, yeah."

Lacrosse genuinely is jaw-droppingly physical at times, with sticks swinging into flesh and players collapsing into heaps of limbs. All male participants wear helmets and padding, and crashing into opponents is part and parcel of the game.

But aside from the misconceptions people have about their sport, the thing on every England player's mind is the cost of keeping their love for the game alive.

This is a common theme across many sports, and one I've heard from many Olympic athletes too: huge sacrifices and a vast financial outlay, in pursuit of a sport few people know exists and even fewer watch. But Olympic sports, and others like cricket and rugby, carry a recognition and reward that lacrosse players will simply never get in the UK.

Where Olympic hopefuls can dream of open-top bus parades and the freedom of Mansfield if they bring home a gold medal, the best England's lacrosse stars can wish for is a news-in-brief mention if they win the World Championships. Lacrosse did of course feature prominently in the media this week, but only as a result of the passport dispute, not on its own merits.

"Having lacrosse on the homepage of the BBC Sport website was great for us," says Reynolds. "I've always been looking out for it, hoping it would get a mention on there, but it never has done. For it to be on there is great, but obviously the circumstances were bad news."

Then again, if Reynolds and Co wanted their sporting achievements acknowledged, they wouldn't have chosen lacrosse in the first place. Most of these athletes were good at sports like football or cricket, too. Pursuing lacrosse was a choice they made.

"I'm not full-time - I wish. I have to work, but my employers are understanding and the other thing is having an understanding girlfriend, that's helped," says Reynolds.

"It's incredibly frustrating: not only do we have to give up all of our spare time, we then have to pay for it all. I've been involved with the England squad for 13 years now, and I've spent around £10,000 playing for England. This championship, all in, is maybe £3,000 to play in. It's a massive drain."

Reynolds is one of the lucky ones, though. Only 23 players are allowed in each squad for the Worlds, and a number of his England team-mates were not selected - despite having paid their way up to that point, too. Already thousands of pounds out of pocket, they must now buy tickets on the door to see their luckier counterparts play.

Not that lacrosse is entirely unfunded. As a sport, it will receive £2.2m from Sport England between 2009 and 2013, but the England team say this is channelled into grass-roots lacrosse, and does not reach the elite squad. There is no financial incentive for winning the world title.

For 20-year-old Mancunian Sam Russell, the sport has cost vast sums - but it has also changed his life.

"I play at an American university now," he says. "One of my coaches here was also the headmaster at a school in Ohio, and he asked me to go over there, so for the last four months of my A-level year I studied abroad, playing lacrosse and looking for opportunities at the same time. I moved to Whittier College, in California, the year after."

Russell now plays on a lacrosse scholarship while studying in the US. He says it's a dream come true - "10 years ago, I'd have laughed in your face if you told me this" - but it comes at a price.

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BBC Sport catches up with England's top lacrosse players on a 'rest day' in their team dormitory

"I owe my parents a lot, they've made a lot of sacrifices to help me in this sport. The university I go to costs about $40,000 a year, but scholarships and the exchange rate bring that down dramatically so it's similar to going to a UK university. But, at the same time, you don't get any student loan, and obviously you have to fund your place in the England team as well.

"My parents made a lot of sacrifices to help me in this sport. I'll have to pay them back... one day. I've got a job now. I'm a white van man! I drive round West Didsbury and do a bit of property maintenance. But that's just for the summer, I've got two more years left in the US."

Russell doesn't care that the sport won't earn him much, if any, recognition (or money) over here. Nor does Reynolds, who reckons this will be his last time at the Worlds. For the time being, they are savouring the sight of dozens of teams from around the globe descending on their doorstep, to play the sport they love.

"It's weird," admits Russell. "I walked in on the first day and the American team were coming down the stairs. I was thinking, 'I've seen you on TV, you on TV... and it's nice to play in front of friends and family. With the cost of it, it's a chance to try to perform for them."

"I've given up a great deal to do this," adds Reynolds. "Not only holidays, but work-wise. I thought about moving away to get other jobs and that's gone by the wayside. A huge amount has been given up for lacrosse - but it's worth it, being here now."


  • Comment number 1.

    It is a shame that one of Britain's oldest military allies are not allowed entry because of an alleged "security risk", nor that the the USA would not allow them back to their Indigenous Homeland. Iroquois diplomats have been visiting England since the early 18th century where they had a formal audiences the ruling monarch, Queen Anne.
    But the bright side with the Iroquois team out effectively barred from entering the tournament because they are men of principle and honour, is that England now has a shot at a medal. And after the World Cup, England does need something to cheer about.

  • Comment number 2.

    I know the BBC has to promote smaller sports but blimey guys, this is seriously scraping the barrel!

  • Comment number 3.

    Nothing wrong with giving exposure to minority sports.

    I sort of stumbled into playing lacrosse in Scotland in 1995 and it was one of the best things I ever did. I love the sport and recommend it to anyone; men's, womnen's and "mixed".

  • Comment number 4.

    I agree, there's nothing wrong with it, I just think that lacrosse on the front page is slightly over the top.

  • Comment number 5.

    You cant be the best unless you compete against the best.

  • Comment number 6.

    Of course it isn't over the top. It is an interesting story with many different facets. We are holding the World Championships in a sport in which we are one of the top teams in the world (and current European Champions I believe). One of the other top teams in the world (and inventors of the game) won't be represented at the games because of immigration issues, which gives it a political angle. Then we have the travesty of elite athletes representing England and paying for the privilege! It is a great story and I am very pleased it is on the front page of the website. Good work Ollie and the BBC. Packersftw - expand your horizons.

  • Comment number 7.

    It's got nothing to do with expanding horizons or keeping an open mind, and I'm not dissing the writer.

    You have your opinion, I'll have mine.

  • Comment number 8.

    I would like to ad my perspective to this issue, which I think is a sad comment on the times we live in. In my opinion, the British government should be ashamed of itself. The memebers of Iroquious National Lacross Team possed NO THREAT to British Security and they should have been allowed to enter the Country. The fact that they will not be allowed to compete in a competition that they invented, really is a shame.

    The reason they did not have either US or Canadian Passports is simple. My within the Iroquious Confederacy consider themselves to independant of Both Canada and the United States. Infact, under US law. Native American reservations are treated as Sovern nations.

    It is true that all Native Americans have US Citizenship if they live in the United States, how ever the tribes themselves have an Independant status. That is why they have been able to travel with out either US or Canadain passports.

    As for the comments of packersftw, I would like you to understand that the game of LaCross is not just an athletic competition for the people of the Iroquois Confederacy. The game has a spiritual significance as well as the game was played as part of festivals and at religious celebrations before Europeans settled here in North America.

  • Comment number 9.

    @packersftw : "this is seriously scraping the barrel!" "lacrosse on the front page is slightly over the top." "You have your opinion, I'll have mine."

    Opinion, yes; reasoning, no.

  • Comment number 10.

    As a lacrosse player myself I find packers comments disrespectful. As anyone that plays a minority sport knows it is a constant struggle to keep the books balanced for most clubs and indeed most players. The reason people keep paying out these sums of money is because they want to play the sport they enjoy. Any media exposure to the sport helps people keep these clubs afloat as more people become aware of the sport and take an interest be it as a potential player or potential sponsors.

    If you knew anything about the sport in this country you would know its one of the fastest growing sports in the country right now mainly being fed by a massive upsurge in interest at university level so you can expect to hear more about this in the future.

    At the end of the day England has a world championship being hosted in the country at a sport in which the country is very competitive. After watching the farce of England's world cup campaign surely some uplifting sports news from some of the country's other sports teams should be welcomed.

    All that said my interest in this tournament is in the Welsh side which boasts a number of my current and ex-team mates. Good luck boyos!!

  • Comment number 11.

    As someone who has worked for UK immigration, I am in total agreement that the players cannot be let in unless they travel with a recognised national passport. The documents that they were attempting to use are not valid as they are not recognised as a separate nation under international law. In these days of tight security, it is not acceptable to attempt to cater for the foibles of groups attempting to circumvent the system just to make a statement. I have known of cases where UK citizens have been denied access to the U.S. because they had old style, but not out-of-date passports and had not realised that a visa was required even when their friends with later passports did not need visas.
    It may seem bureaucratic, but rules must be rules where national borders are involved.
    In the case of the Iroquois, they were all eligible for U.S. or Canadian passports, or if not, then there would have been a problem anyway.
    We would not accept a document claiming to be a passport for a Maori, or an Aboriginal, or a Tuareg, or a Taliban, or Al-Quaieda.

  • Comment number 12.

    "We use sticks and a ball like the ladies, but men's lacrosse is very much more physical. Women's lacrosse is like hockey, men's lacrosse is like ice hockey."

    IF Mr Reynolds believs this then he knows very little about hockey!

  • Comment number 13.

    Thanks for the comments, all.

    I should apologise for one error in the voiceover accompanying the first video. The hardcore lacrosse fans among us will know this is NOT the first time the Lacrosse Worlds have come to Manchester - yours truly misread a guide to the tournament. They've actually also been staged in Manchester in 1978 and 1994, I believe.

    GallensMagicRangers - I know what you mean, but I don't think he's doing field hockey down, I just think he's drawing a valid comparison between the levels of physicality in those sports. I've spent all week at the Hockey Champions Trophy and I'm an ice hockey commentator in my spare time so I see plenty of both sports, and while field hockey has its fair share of bruising encounters, you can't reasonably go around body-checking people as is part and parcel of ice hockey. If you could, field hockey players would need helmets and padding too.

    (As an aside, I sometimes wonder whether field hockey players DO need that. I've been at the Champions Trophy all week and some of injuries players get, from the ball more than anything else, are pretty vicious. But I'll save that for another blog.)

  • Comment number 14.

    Great blog Ollie, really appreciate the write up. It's a shame the political and transport issues have been the main reason for bringing the World Championships into the news, but it should be a great tournament. Good luck to England (and Hong Kong) for the rest of their games!

  • Comment number 15.

    An interesting and legitimate article and even more interesting blog. I just hope that the BBC now continues to report on the results of this Championship and good luck to England.

  • Comment number 16.

    I just wanted to agree wholeheartedly with American Sport Fan. I have had the privilege of working for the Huron Nation as a translator in Canada and can confirm their immense pride in their traditional sports and related ceremonies.
    The article is well constructed and interesting. Shame some readers prefer to limit their interest to the over-inflated ego-trip that is football and a few other "media-friendly" sports. I am a huge Montreal Canadiens ice hockey fan too, btw, and I have seen enough lacrosse on Canadian TV to appreciate the comparison. Coming originally from Wigan, these sports remind me of my beloved rubgy league - played by true enthusiasts and REAL men and not for money or glory, but for personal pride and honour.

  • Comment number 17.

    Btw Ollie, after their great run to the Conference finals this spring, what chances do you give the Habs to go all the way next season (bearing in mind that we traded Halak...)?

  • Comment number 18.

    Absolute disgrace the Iroquois have not been let in - the immigration officials in this country need to read a history book and hang their heads in shame!

  • Comment number 19.

    I live in Manchester, and until the Iroquois story was reported... I didn't even know the championships were being held in the UK let alone on my door step Manchester.

    It's a shame that lesser known sports don't get more in the way of advertising.

  • Comment number 20.

    The Iroquois situation is lamentable but could and should have been sorted out by all parties a long time ago. It smacks of a team using the tournament to make a political statement, although I hope this is not the case. Regardless of their history within the game, their passports are not recognised, surely someone saw this coming.

    @Mancun Ian (and anyone else in the area) I urge you to come down and watch the championships, you'll love it!

  • Comment number 21.

    I'm very happy to see Lacrosse getting some decent exposure. Its been around a long time now in England, and while I think it's fair to say that we're a fair way behind Canada and the US, we're not that far off the pace to be a genuine power.

    Lacrosse is the fastest growing sport in Europe - there have been a solid core of leagues in Germany and the Czech Republic (although they play more 'box' lacrosse, the even-more-violent indoor version). Here in the Netherlands we started a league in 2005 and now have 20 teams countrywide. We have helped teams start up in France, Belgium, Spain and Italy, Denmark has had a committed team for years - here in The Hague we even have a Beach Lax tournament every year (now in it's 4th year) with teams from all over Europe.

    Terrible shame about the Iroqouis - you'd've thought the UK authorities could make some accommodation wouldn't you?

  • Comment number 22.

    " the team refuse to register for American or Canadian passports on principle."

    They really need new principles. Millions of people in third world countries - indeed, millions of illegal immigrants in North America - would love to get those passports, and they're failing to take advantage of their favourable accident of birth?

    It's got nothing to do with owing loyalty to the US or Canada - those passports are just a convenient way to travel easier, something to take advantage of. By all means, let them complain - legitimately - about how their ancestors were brutally murdered by the invaders and how they were shunted into reserves and their way of life destroyed, but they shouldn't let that interfere with their present lives.

    Go back two thousand years and think of how many conquered people whined about - but took advantage of - the Roman conquest. Why should they be any different?

  • Comment number 23.

    #2 is a twit. Just because lacrosse is a boring sport - I'd like it more if I could see the ball - doesnt mean it shouldn't get coverage. I mean, golf is far more boring and it gets coverage!

  • Comment number 24.

    To all you doubters re minority sports, if you'd been at 'super Saturday' yesterday, minority sport or not, your jaw would have been on the floor after a superb trio of matches. The speed of the Japanese against the Germans, the extra time goals - well deserved - by the Aussies against England and the sheer audacity of John Grant Jnr scoring one-handed for Canada against the US yesterday evening are just some snippets of some awesome Lacrosse.

    I play women's lacrosse but the men's game is something totally different. Lets hope they both get the recognition they deserve and become Olympic sports one day. They beat hockey hands down.

  • Comment number 25.

    buymespresso I rather think that you had better get some new reasoning ability. What happened to the First Nations was genocide, pure and simple. That is why the Iroquois have no desire to attach themselves to the "conqueror".
    I would also be really interested to have some examples of peoples that "took advantage of the Roman conquest". By the same logic the occupied French who collaborated during WWII were absolutely right in sending the Jews to labour camps. Sorry buyme. Your logic is fatally flawed on so many levels.

  • Comment number 26.

    I love the idea that the team should be let in because they pose no risk.(American Sports Fan) I can see that working at JFK. Hi I don't have a passport but you can let me in I am not a risk.

    The fact is that the rules on passports were changed three years ago and the Iroquois would have been fine if they had modernised to meet the new rules at the time not a week before they wanted to use them.

    There is also archaelogical evidence suggesting a race similar to the Chinese that inhabited N America and were massacred. The site was on sacrd land and was immediated closed to scientists when the evidence was published in scientific literature.

  • Comment number 27.

    Well, I guess it makes a change to find a sport getting publicity through Politics, Religion (comment #8), and Harry Potter.
    Normally the story seems to be about keeping Politics out of Sport.

  • Comment number 28.

    Rules are rules.

    Either the Iroquois administrators are incompetent or they were attempting to make a political statement by travelling on false papers.

  • Comment number 29.

    It seems like a really fun sport to play, but most clubs around London I checked out seemed to want people that have played before. Are there any clubs out there that cater for beginners?

  • Comment number 30.

    @ logans_runner

    South London clubs Spencer (based in Earlsfield), Hillcroft (Tooting but train in Clapham) and slightly further afield Blues (surther South in Surrey) all have 2 or 3 teams with the lower teams definitely catering for and encouraging new players. See their websites for contact details:

    In the north of London, slightly fewer options inside M25 but Welwyn and Hitchin both have more than 1 team and I'm sure would welcome beginners too.

    That's for men's mainly...not so sure on the women's scene! Hope you can get involved and enjoy the sport!

  • Comment number 31.

    As far as I'm concerned all sport should get some kind of coverage. Publicity is very often what draws new participants into sport. Not everyone likes, or is good at, soccer or cricket so somebody may find a sporting outlet through stories like this.

    On the Passport saga, the majority of the stiff regulations regarding Trans-Atlantic travel have been instigated by the US so it's no good castigating UK Immigration for following the rules.

  • Comment number 32.

    The refusal of entry to the Iroguois lacrosse team is an absolute disgrace. The Iroquois have treaties with a number of countries, including Britain, which recognize their sovereignty. Their passports have been accepted around the world for years. Perhaps this is more about removing some of the main opposition to the England team. Looks like British competitors could have a field day at the 2012 Olympics! Meanwhile, the world governing body for lacrosse should ensure that the U.K. never stages another international event.

  • Comment number 33.

    It's comical that some people think it was a strategic tactic that the Brits denied the Iroquois entry. Nothing could be further than the truth. I'm a Canadian living in the UK and its clear that the sport is tiny and insignificant here - I live less than 10 miles away from where the Championships are being held and the majority of people I speak to are completely oblivious to its presence (those that aren't work at the university that has allowed its facilities to be used for the tournament).

    The people here who do love the game are very upset that the Iroquois have not been able to make it, and that includes the organizers and the teams participating. That said, if the Iroquois passports are not acceptable to the UK as travel documents then the alternatives are (a) don't travel, or (b) accept the offer that was made of a US or Canadian passport. The Iroquois chose not to travel.

  • Comment number 34.

    Yeah, well I happen to live in La Crosse Wisconsin originally Ho Chunk property. A Ho Chunk native explained to me that the game of lacrosse was played to settle disputes between Native American Nations and it wouldn't be played over a matter of a couple of hours but sometimes for several days until there was a clear winner. The team that won also won the dispute - but the loosing team were put to death. It had occurred to me that some bureaucrat was worried that the Iroquois may want to scalp their opposition.

    A cartoon here shows a politician pointing at a man and woman and saying, "We must do something about illegal immigrants and send them back." A Native American standing beside him says, "I'll help you pack."

    This land once belonged to the Ho Chunk, the Iroquois, Cherokee and so on. Each Nation will tell you that it is a nation with it's own identity, language and culture - and that's the problem - getting others to recognize what what those of us who know them understand.

  • Comment number 35.

    Just to update - the tournament was won by the US team, defeating Canada 12-10. Australia took the bronze over Japan. The England team placed 5th, defeating Germany. I'm a Canadian who grew up watching lacrosse (although indoor box lacrosse mostly) and have lived in the UK a long time. I was delighted to see the championships were being held here. The delight turned to disappointment when I realized the only coverage of the tournament on BBC was of the plight of the Iroquois Nation players. The championship website was the only UK site to have the scores and standings. I listen to BBC radio all the time and I would have thought Sports Extra would have been a great way to broadcast some of the games. I know the Australia v. Pakistan test match was on toward the end of the tournament, but I would really like to see the BBC use Sports Extra to promote 'minority sports', especially when a tournament is being hosted here.


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