Iroquois' 2014 Status in Hands of FIL General Assembly
Decision to drop team from Blue Division faces second appeal
The Iroquois Nationals, hoping to build off a U19 upset of Team USA in 2012, were removed from the top-flight Blue Division for the 2014 senior world games due to their non-participation in 2010.
© Tero Wester
Correction: An earlier version of this story had 27 full-member nations of the FIL voting on the appeal. There are actually 28 full-member nations. Israel gained full-member status in November 2012.
Lyle Thompson just finished one point shy of the NCAA's all-time single season scoring record with Albany.
Cody Jamieson just became the first player to win consecutive Champion's Cup MVP honors in the National Lacrosse League with the Rochester Knighthawks.
Jamieson's cousin, Sid Smith, just led the Knighthawks to their second straight NLL championship as team captain.
Everywhere you look in today's lacrosse landscape, you'll find Iroquois players not only honoring what they call the Creator's Game, but also excelling in all of its modern forms. But uncertainty again surrounds their participation in the Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) World Championship.
Last month, the Iroquois Nationals appealed for the second time an FIL decision that would withhold them from the top division at the 2014 world games in Denver — a motion that now resides in a vote among the FIL's 28 full-member nations.
The controversy stems from the Iroquois Nationals' absence from the 2010 games in Manchester, England, due to a well-publicized dispute over the validity of their Haudenosaunee-issued passports. Germany took the Iroquois' place in the Blue Division, traditionally reserved for the top six teams from the previous world championship.
"Politics between the U.S. and the U.K. stood in the way of the Iroquois Nationals competing... in 2010," Iroquois Nationals general manager Gewas Schindler wrote in a May 10 letter to the FIL General Assembly. "No comparable past precedence exists. To make such a ruling on uncertain principles contradicts the spirit of international competition and the celebration of the Creator's Game."
According to FIL bylaws, the Germans' sixth-place finish in 2010 would warrant inclusion in the Blue Division alongside the U.S., Canada, Australia, England and Japan in 2014. The Iroquois, meanwhile, would be bumped to a lower group as a result of their forfeiture.
When the Iroquois Nationals first learned of the decision in January, they appealed it to the FIL Board of Directors, which upheld the original ruling. The Iroquois issued a second appeal, this time to the general assembly, in April. Representatives of the 28 full-member nations must vote by June 9 on the original FIL decision, with a two-thirds majority required to overturn it.
US Lacrosse, which will host the 2014 world championships, released a position statement last week.
"US Lacrosse is very disappointed that the Iroquois Nationals will not be competing in the Blue Division of the 2014 Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) Men’s World Championship because their lacrosse team is one of the world’s best and represents the very essence of our sport," Steve Stenersen, president and CEO of US Lacrosse, said in the statement. "Additionally, given the significant human and financial resource investment US Lacrosse is making to stage an event of this magnitude, we believe the absence of the Iroquois Nationals from the Blue Division is not in the best interest of the event’s success. And, we remain very concerned about the impact that growing negative public relations concerning this issue will have on the event, the FIL and our sport.
"US Lacrosse has expressed this position to the FIL Board of Directors, and we remain hopeful that the FIL and its member nations are able to determine a reasonable solution that will address these concerns."
Iroquois Nationals GM Gewas Schindler, a former player and captain of the 2010 team that never made it to Manchester due to a passport dispute, wrote to the FIL General Assembly that "no comparable past precedence exists" regarding the team's removal from the Blue Division in the 2014 world championship.
© John Strohsacker/ © Iroquois Nationals
According to Ron Balls, chair of the FIL's competition committee, if the general assembly rejects the FIL proposal, it would not automatically place the Iroquois Nationals in the Blue Division. Nor would it bump the Germans.
"It means the current bylaws are not applicable," Balls clarified in an FAQ released to voting nations last week, "and a new structure would need to be agreed with the members."
Specifically, FIL bylaw 11.1 states that men's world championships "shall be conducted according to the men's existing championship handbook," which was adopted from the now-defunct International Lacrosse Federation (ILF) and dictates that teams be seeded by how they finished in the previous world championship. Technically, by accepting a 1-0 forfeit in each of their games in 2010, the Iroquois placed 30th.
The FIL Board of Directors considered alternative measures proposed by the Iroquois Nationals, like including both Germany and the Iroquois in a seven-team Blue Division, staging a pre-tournament play-in game or playing multiple games per day to accommodate expansion.
"The only other way around this was to start breaking other rules and bylaws. Now we're compounding a problem," FIL President Stan Cockerton said. "We're put in a place to uphold the rules given. That's what we can do."
If the general assembly votes to uphold the FIL's decision, the Iroquois Nationals would still have a path to the championship from a lower division, where they would be heavily favored. They would need to advance to a play-in game against the No. 3 or No. 4 team in the Blue Division based on round-robin results.
Although the Iroquois have never finished higher than fourth place in a senior men's world championship since they began playing under the Haudenosaunee banner in 1990, the U19 team pulled off one of the biggest upsets in international lacrosse history last year when it defeated the U.S. in a round-robin game. It was the first Iroquois victory over Team USA in any field lacrosse competition.
"To not have them in the division is detrimental to the world games," Trevor Tierney, a two-time U.S. team goalie and University of Denver assistant coach, said in an email Tuesday. "We should have all of the best teams competing with each other for the entire tournament."
The Iroquois expected to contend for a medal in 2010. But the U.K. Border Agency denied them entry into the country on their Haudenosaunee passports, which did not meet certain post-9/11 standards. While stranded in New York, the team became the subject of national and global news media reports.
Schindler, captain of that team, has since focused his energy on the development of Iroquois players, most of whom grew up around box lacrosse, in the field game.
"I don't even like saying 'Manchester,' because it brings up so many bad memories for me," he said. "My playing days are over. Now it's my job as general manager to get our players to that level where we can play with the United States and Canada."
At stake in 2010, Iroquois officials said, were their rights as a sovereign people governed by a council of traditional chiefs, according to treaties signed with the U.S. in the 18th and 19th centuries.
"The right of self-determination, the right to govern yourself — we've been practicing that for a long time," Percy Abrams, then the executive director of the Iroquois Nationals, said in a July 2010 interview with Lacrosse Magazine. "One of the other things that comes with that is the ability and right to write your own passports and travel on those documents."
Lyle Thompson, captain of the 2012 Iroquois Nationals U19 team that upset the U.S. in round-robin play, finished one point shy of the NCAA's single-season scoring record this year at Albany.
© Marc Piscotty
Tierney said the FIL needs to right the wrong, even if there is no precedence in its bylaws.
"If the FIL follows the rule book and seeds the Iroquois 30th in the tournament, then they are basically backing up England's stance and pouring salt on the wound for the Iroquois," Tierney said. "This is simply unacceptable, and the socially responsible and respectful thing for all of us to do is to stand up for the Iroquois and recognize their sovereignty."
Cockerton said the FIL is empowered only to uphold rules previously agreed upon by its membership. If a two-thirds majority rejects the original decision to remove the Iroquois from the Blue Division, he said, it would nullify FIL bylaw 11.1 and thus initiate a process to amend its championship policies and procedures.
"I don't think there's anybody that doesn't wish the Iroquois were in Manchester competing and we didn't have this situation. We all know the history," Cockerton said. "From an FIL standpoint, we just don't think we have the right to make that decision based on current rules."
Paul Rabil, the 2010 FIL World Championship MVP with Team USA, said he would relish the opportunity if he makes the 2014 U.S. team to play against what some expect to be the most talented Iroquois senior team in years.
"They're always a fierce competitor on field. It's always an honor get a chance to play against them and representing Team USA doing so," Rabil said. "Whatever decision is ultimately rendered, I hope it's done in the right capacity for the Iroquois and the rest of the world to compete."
Jamieson, who after leading the Knighthawks to the NLL title will report to Major League Lacrosse's Hamilton Nationals for their June 1 game at the Chesapeake Bayhawks, said the Iroquois senior players were buoyed by watching the U19 team upset the U.S. last year.
"We hooked a computer up to a TV and watched it. It was overwhelming, really emotional seeing that," Jamieson said. "It would be a huge letdown to the team, really our whole Haudenosaunee nation, if we couldn't compete in the Blue Division [in 2014]."
On Wednesday, the Iroquois Nationals Board of Directors was drafting a second letter to the FIL General Assembly, including statements of support from lacrosse governing bodies in the U.S., Czech Republic and Slovakia. Schindler said several other countries have informally expressed the same.
"We want to show these countries that haven't voted yet that they're not on an island," he said. "We have to use our support letters and educate these countries the best we can, pushing for that two-thirds vote."