Iroquois Nationals win lacrosse appeal

Associated Press File Photo
Ron Cogan, left, and Marty Ward, second from left, join other members of the Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team in Battery Park, N.Y., in July 2010. The team has been on a wild roller-coaster ride for the past three years. It went from a top position in 2010 to the bottom, and then back somewhere near the top last week.

It took one day for a sports team to jump from last place in a league to the top.

That wasn’t a scene from a triumphant sports movie. It was the reality last week for the Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team.

The team has been on a wild roller-coaster ride for the past three years. It went from a top position in 2010 to the bottom, and then back somewhere near the top last week.

It was reinstated June 13 in the elite Blue Division after a much-anticipated vote by members of the Federation of International Lacrosse.

Of the 28 member countries of the federation and the five-member board of directors, the Nationals “won by the appropriate two-thirds majority,” said federation president Stan Cockerton.

“Obviously, we feel great,” said Gewas Schindler, general manager of the Nationals, speaking from Six Nations. “We’re really excited to be in the Blue Division, the premier division. And we feel that we’re rightfully placed with the support of the countries and the membership.”

But why did they have to be reinstated from a demoted position? To answer that, you have to go back three years.

In July 2010, the Nationals were to compete in the World Lacrosse Championships in Manchester, England.

But there were complications over the team’s Haudenosaunee passports.

Team members come from Haudenosaunee communities in Canada and the U.S. and play as their own country in international championships. Half of the team comes from Six Nations, Schindler said.

Before 2010, their passports were accepted when travelling abroad for lacrosse games, said Neal Powless, assistant director of the Native Student Program at Syracuse University and a former Nationals player.

“We’ve never travelled under an American or a Canadian passport,” Powless said. “When we went to Tokyo, we travelled under the Haudenosaunee passport, and to Turku, Finland, and, in 1994, I myself participated in the world championships in England and I used a Haudenosaunee passport.

“It didn’t make sense to travel on someone else’s passport and then compete under your own passport,” he added.

But, in July 2010, English and American officials didn’t consider the passports official. The team was left waiting at an airport in New York City while trying to negotiate a solution with British consular officials, according to Spectator files.

The team couldn’t enter England on its passports, it didn’t play in the championships and eventually it returned home.

The worst was yet to come. Cockerton explained that FIL “rules stated that you get seeded by the previous world championship. Because the Iroquois Nationals did not play in Manchester, they were seeded in the last spot. Which was 30th.”

For a Blue Division team accustomed to being ranked in the top six in the world, the demotion was devastating for the Nationals.

Sid Smith was on the team in 2010 when it tried to travel to Manchester. The 26-year-old defenceman from Six Nations said: “We tried so hard to get out there and then, hearing we were demoted, it was a bit of a slap in the face.”

The team appealed the decision to the FIL but, as Schindler said: “Three months later, they said ‘We haven’t changed our minds.’ So then we appealed a second time and we said we want this to be a membership vote of all the countries.”

The team reasoned that the passport issue was between the U.S. and England, and unrelated to lacrosse.

More importantly, Schindler said all the teams wanted to see the Nationals reinstated in the Blue Division: “Everyone in the world wants to see us play in the premier division. If we compete in the 30th position, we would be playing against competition far below our level and it would be very lopsided.”

While the FIL board of directors processed the second appeal, a petition in support of the Nationals was launched in late May on change.org. The petition, posted by Washington Stealth lacrosse team president David Takata, called for the restoration of the Nationals to the Blue Division, and garnered more than 7,000 signatures from around the world.

Speaking before the FIL’s decision on June 13, Schindler said the petition started because the fans wanted to watch fair and competitive matches: “They don’t want to watch us play in the 30th rank against competition that won’t be entertaining to anybody. With any sport, you turn your TV off if the score is too bad. And that’s why the petition is growing and growing.”

Postal voting closed June 10 and the result was made public June 13.

Cockerton said the results demonstrate the membership was ready for change: “The old rules wouldn’t have allowed them to participate in the Blue Division. We have to try to amend the rules and, whatever decision our committee comes up with, we can go back to the members to get them approved.”

Now that the Nationals are back in the Blue Division, they can start preparing for the next world championships in Denver in July 2014.

“We’re looking to pick this team,” Schindler said. “We’re looking to having those players in the best condition to represent our country so they can represent our people back home from the Haudenosaunee confederacy and also prove to the world that we belong in the Blue Division.”