Professional lacrosse season begins as sport leaders eye Olympics

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ALBANY, NY — Paul Rabil had a dream that went beyond the Premier Lacrosse League he founded with his brother Mike four years ago. His passion was to take Native American sport to new heights with a view to returning it to the Olympics for the first time in over seven decades.

“It was part of our early presentation material – that on the horizon there was a possibility of lacrosse being in the Olympics,” said Paul Rabil. “It’s something that sports leaders have been working on for the better part of the past two decades. There’s just a lot of organizing that needs to take place. More importantly, there is excellent leadership. We are in good hands.

The eight-team PLL kicked off its fourth tour-based season on Saturday to a nearly sold-out crowd at an 8,500-seat venue in Albany, New York, the first leg of a slate of 47 games in 13 cities in the United States. The league has a new four-year contract with ESPN which will increase the global reach of lacrosse in more than 170 countries.

World Lacrosse, the sport‘s international governing body, has also struck a deal with ESPN that gives the network global media rights to the World Lacrosse Championships through next year. ESPN will broadcast 246 games as part of the first multi-year, multi-event media partnership for World Lacrosse, which last July reached a milestone when the International Olympic Committee granted full recognition to the federation.

“I think it’s important to us,” World Lacrosse general manager Jim Scherr said. “This exposure for our world championships and international events…will help us build an audience for the game and build the lacrosse brand as well as drive growth in other countries around the world.”

The TV deals mean the games will be shown on ESPN platforms in faraway places like Africa. World Lacrosse had two African members in 2019 and is expected to have seven by the end of the year. Nigeria and Rwanda came on board on Wednesday, joining South Africa, Kenya, Ghana and Uganda, and Morocco are expected to join them by December. This would bring the number of global members to 78 countries – ten years ago that total was 43.

This is an important factor to consider for the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028, as is the rise of the sport in the United States. Over the past two decades, lacrosse has been the fastest growing college sport. There are now just over 900 teams across the three divisions — more than half of which are women — and more than 28,000 athletes participate, according to the NCAA.

Equally important, perhaps, has been the growth of gambling in Southern California. USA Lacrosse has five Urban Lacrosse Alliance teams to reach the area’s youth, and there are more than 15,000 high school players, split roughly evenly between boys and girls.

“It’s really what we see as sort of a lacrosse hotbed now, and it will continue to grow and thrive through 2028 whether we’re at the Games or not,” Scherr said, also noting that the PLL there at his seat.

The PLL has created a different version of lacrosse in an effort to make the professional game more exciting and engaging, especially for young people, and at each stop in the program runs academies for young players to learn from the greatest players in the world. game. Among the changes were a shorter pitch to create more scoring chances, and shortened playing time and shooting duration. This created a blueprint for the federation’s Olympic proposal.

The World Games in July, an international multi-sport event featuring 16 teams from nine countries and four continents in Birmingham, Alabama, will feature World Lacrosse Sixes, a version of the game with a smaller pitch and less stoppage time that would be used in Olympic competition.

Rosters at the Olympics would be limited to 12 players, an important consideration for the IOC’s goal of reducing the size of the Games. Scherr says if the sport is selected, there will likely be eight to 12 men’s and women’s teams.

Developed centuries ago by the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy, lacrosse is Canada’s national game and the oldest team sport in North America, with its roots in upstate New York and North America. across the Canadian border. It was twice a medal sport at the Summer Olympics – in 1904 in St. Louis, where an Iroquois team of Mohawk Indians from Canada won bronze, and four years later in London. It last appeared at the 1948 Games, also in London, as a demonstration sport.

Surfing, skateboarding and sport climbing, youth-focused sports with deep roots in California that also featured at the Tokyo Games, were added for Los Angeles. If lacrosse is selected, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, which will compete in Alabama and at the Women’s World Championship in Maryland in late June, could be allowed to field both men’s and women’s teams. It would pave the way for one of the game’s greatest players – the PLL star Lyle Thompson of the Onondaga Nation outside of Syracuse – to be able to compete .

“The players want the sport to be in the Olympics,” Mike Rabil said on Saturday. “Guys are bought. We’re bought. It’s a big deal for us.”

Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai, an investor when the PLL was formed, said World Lacrosse would discuss with the IOC whether to make an exception for the Haudenosaunee to be included if lacrosse is selected.

“We are all very supportive of this. Native Americans invented the sport. It’s the legacy,” said Tsai, who was born in Taiwan and played varsity lacrosse at Yale. “They have to be in it, and in fact they’re going to help us get into the LA28 Olympics because if you look at the selection criteria and the values ​​- they want to have diversity and inclusion, they want to appeal to young people, they want sustainability.

“If you’re looking at being inclusive and having diversity and you’re going to exclude a group of people who invented the sport – and they would add a lot more diversity to the sport – that goes against the values ​​of the Games. LA Olympics.”

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