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Ryan Small, December 11 2018

Is Olympic Lacrosse on its Way?

It’s about time that lacrosse was recognized by the International Olympic Committee. The sport is more widely played and accepted than other more specialized parts of the summer games like shooting, dressage, or canoe slalom. Recognition by the IOC sets lacrosse up to be played in the 2028 Los Angeles games on a global stage, which is long overdue.

I don’t think that this move by the IOC is as important for the sport as a lot of people think it is. I believe it’s more important for the individual athletes than the sport as a whole, with the players able to capitalize on the notoriety and recognition that comes with being an Olympic athlete. Players would have the opportunity to expand their personal brand through ads that would be seen by a much larger national audience. Athletes would be able to leverage their broader influence to get sponsors and have a larger following to bring in kids to their camps.

Insofar as this move impacting the sport on a professional level, I struggle to believe that much change will occur. I haven’t seen the Olympics impact any other sport that drastically that wasn’t already big. Soccer has the Olympics and World Cup which gain attention every few years, but still can’t sustain large crowds at MLS games. I don’t see lacrosse as a whole faring any better or gaining a tremendous amount of momentum simply because kids see their favorite lacrosse athletes on TV once every 4 years.

Taking a step back, this move by the IOC hasn’t even guaranteed Olympic status yet. While things look promising, lacrosse will need to be made a full-fledged Olympic sport before any impact is made. I don’t think that the buzz of its potential is going to help anything. Again, it will be the individuals who will benefit from the bigger stage, but the hype that has come from the IOC announcement alone will fade before any impact is made.

On a global scale, I think that teams will come out of the woodwork to compete. I predict that initially, it will be like other sports, where one team dominates the global landscape. In the first few years where basketball allowed pros in the Olympics, the U.S. was dominant- winning every game by over 50 points with the dream team of Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and others. Olympic basketball is much more competitive now, but I believe lacrosse will initially be just as one-sided.

It’s interesting to compare the potential of Olympic lacrosse to the World Games. With the World Games, the sport has grown astronomically, and many countries participate to create healthy competition. The problem is that many of these countries have U.S. players (a funny tongue in cheek stab I would always hear on the street was that team Israel was actually team Long Island). Players have taken advantage of the seven degrees of separation and loose family ties in a way that I doubt would work in the Olympics. The Israeli lacrosse team may typically do well in the World Games, but many of those players would likely not be able to compete in the Olympics.

Another aspect that should be considered is that this is clearly a bigger move for field lacrosse than any other form of the sport. If the Olympics adopts field lacrosse, does that become the dominant form of the sport moving forward? I’d imagine that it would be and I think that it poses an interesting threat to box lacrosse. With field lacrosse on an Olympic pedestal and the NLL being more successful than any outdoor leagues, it makes sense to me that field lacrosse would dominate the game moving forward.

Overall, I think that the Federation of International Lacrosse’s recognition by the IOC is a really cool move. I’m excited for the sport and don’t see any reason to suspect that the news won’t lead to full inclusion of lacrosse in the Olympics. If that’s the case, it’s a huge leg up for the sport but more importantly, for the athletes. The opportunity for them to grow their personal brand with big-time sponsors and a national stage has career-changing potential.

Let’s say Paul Rabil’s PLL takes off. It’d be great if the player-centric PLL allowed each individual a certain amount of space on their jerseys for sponsors. If the athletes were also Olympians, they’d be exposed to much bigger sponsors and the individuals could be treated more like billboards- and reap the rewards.

I don’t know how much the Olympics would help grow the sport, but it’d clearly help promote it. I see that as a distinctly positive thing. If individuals were able to promote themselves well enough on the bigger stage, maybe more of them would be able to make lacrosse their full-time sport. It’d be a huge step to be sure and who knows, maybe we’ll all be watching lacrosse in the 2028 Los Angeles games.

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Ryan Small

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