Sportsmanship is the behavior associated with and strived for in all athletic competitions when it comes to the treatment of one’s fellow athletes, and is marked by traits of generosity and fairness across the board. A textbook example of this behavior is the actions of Ireland’s lacrosse team. In an act of true generosity, Ireland’s team gave their spot to a Native American team, the Iroquois Nationals, in the World Games 2020. The team for which Ireland withdrew for is not a representative of any group that falls under the definition of a sovereign nation, nor do they have an Olympic Committee, and based on this criteria, they were not eligible to compete in next World Games for lacrosse; however, the International World Games Association made the decision to alter this ruling, provided that another team was willing to give up their spot in the competition, considering that all the placements in the World Games had already been filled. For this reason, Ireland made the honorable decision to pass their spot to the Native American players. But this just tells us what Ireland did to help. Another question that needs to be answered is why did they do this?
As stated before the Iroquois Nationals are not technically eligible to play in the upcoming World Games 2022; however, they did actually qualify for the event back in 2018, and this makes all the difference. In fact, at the Federation of International Lacrosse World Championship, the Nationals finished third overall, which led to their original qualification for the World Games, despite their ineligibility. In comparison, Ireland actually only made 12th place back in 2018. Again, because of the placement of the Native American team in the Federation of International Lacrosse World Championship, they would be allowed by the International World Games Association to compete in 2022, provided another qualifying team was willing to step down from the bracket.
That is exactly what Ireland did. They gave up their seat in the World Games in order that the Iroquois Nationals could claim their place. When asked about their decision, the coach and the team agreed that they believed it was the right thing to do because the Native American team deserved the opportunity to compete in the sport that they all love. The historical significance of this exchange cannot be measured, given that Native American tribes have claims to being the creators and founders of the sport of lacrosse going back to at least the 12th century CE. The Nationals themselves may not represent a “sovereign nation,” but they do represent a confederacy of six tribes: Cayuga, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca and Tuscarora. This confederacy is known as Haudenosaunee, meaning “people who build a house,” or more commonly the Iroquois Confederacy. The significance of this interaction with Ireland extends past the confederacy, however, to the broader indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, since the Nationals are the only Native American team to be authorized to compete in any sport internationally.
Needless to say, this is a monumental event for the world of professional sporting events, as this not only sets a precedent for the World Games, which has over 30 different athletic competitions comprising it, but also the Olympic Games, because the World Games competition gives exposure for events that are potential for inclusion or reintroduction in the next Olympics; therefore, this exposure just might be what both the Iroquois Nationals, Ireland and the sport of lacrosse need right now. Only time will tell.