The Iroquois Nationals, Ireland Lacrosse, and Diplomacy in Sports

Peyton Dauley, Contributing Writer

The Iroquois Nationals are the third-best lacrosse team in the world. They have won a silver medal in every indoor World Games since 2003. You would not expect them to be barred from participating in the International World Games. However, this year they were almost barred from the indoor World Games. After coming in third place internationally in lacrosse, the Nationals were denied eligibility into the 2022 World Games in Alabama, on account of their nationhood status.

This is not the first time the Iroquois Nationals have faced hardships before they step onto the field. The Iriquois have had troubles since their first National Competitions in 1990.  The Nationals represent the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy, which is composed of six federally-recognized members: the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora nations. They have been on an upward climb to reach international status and acknowledgment. Despite the Iroquois being a recognized team by the Federation of International Lacrosse for over 30 years, they have been denied entry into countries because of heightened security, which discredits the Haudenosaunee Nation passport as a legal document despite having been recognized since 1923.

The Nationals’ director Leo Nolan stated in a CBC interview that “It could be a lack of appreciation, understanding and just basic knowledge about who we are as a nation-state…it is a question of (our) sovereignty.” To clarify, the Haudenosaunee Nation has been recognized in three treaties with the United States, and has since negotiated deals with the Netherlands, England, and France. However, this did not prevent the International World Games Association from declaring that the Iroquois Nationals were ineligible from competing in the 2022 World Games on two accounts. Firstly, that the team did not represent a sovereign nation, and secondly that they do not have an Olympic Committee. This declaration did not go undisputed for long. Soon after the announcement, social media blew up with calls for the inclusion of the Iroquois Nationals in the championship tournament. A petition for their inclusion received over 50,000 signatures as of September 21, 2020. Many noticed misunderstandings regarding the Haudenosaunee history and status. One of the cruelest ironies? Lacrosse originated from Native Americans, who may have created it as early as the 12th century. So the Iroquois Nationals represent more than a lacrosse team – they are carrying a cultural legacy to the international stage. As World Lacrosse teams fight to get their sport back into the Olympics, many believe that the Iroquois Nationals have a rightful place to compete amongst the eight qualifying nations; not only because they proved themselves capable of qualifying, but also because of the cultural significance of lacrosse going international to these Native American communities.

The Irish lacrosse team clearly understood this logic. The Irish team placed 12th in the qualifiers and were allowed to compete in the World Games; players quickly noticed a glaring discrepancy. This led to a surprising announcement earlier this month. Irish officials revealed their withdrawal from the eight-nation competition, clearing a spot for the Iroquois Nationals. In a statement given over Twitter on September 2, Chief Executive Officer of Ireland Lacrosse Michael Kennedy stated, “as much as our players would have been honored to compete, we know the right thing is for the Iroquois Nationals to represent our sport on the international stage.”

This collaboration signifies a collective force in lacrosse  – that their collective power was stronger than a single team’s power. The Irish and Iroquois have forged a friendship The Nationals responded with a statement stating, “your actions have spoken louder than words showing everyone the true power of sport, and the spirit of lacrosse.” Shortly afterward, the Iroquois Nationals officially accepted their slot in the World Games. The International World Games Association has reversed course on its standards for eligibility after the social media outrage about the Haudenosaunee Nation. On August 14th, the organization announced that it would welcome teams from the Haudenosaunee Nation, as long as they qualify and are eligible. This is a significant shift from their original perspective. Paired with the Irish and Iroquios’ newfound companionship, these announcements gave the Iroquois Nationals a renewed chance to win the World Games.

The sacrifice of Ireland Lacrosse to ensure that the Iroquois Nationals had their rightful place in the games, signifies the spirit of sportsmanship and their newfound friendship. The World Games will take place from July 7, 2022, to July 17, 2022, in Birmingham, Alabama.