Sync swimming? Fencing? But lacrosse is a real sport


THERE ARE 28 SPORTS on the program of the 2000 Summer Olympics Games, and not one of them is lacrosse.

Let's rephrase that. There are 28 competitions that the International Olympic Committee recognizes as sport - but not lacrosse, considered by many to be the oldest sport in North America.

Pathetic? Yes. Absolutely ridiculous, especially when you consider that some of the Olympic sports are fencing, synchronized swimming, badminton, and beach volleyball, just to name a few.

What's next? Marbles? How about double-dutch rope-jumping?

Of course, there will now be this flood of e-mail and phone calls challenging me to participate in some of those sports, which I will gladly accept. But there are conditions:

1) No swimming, because I can't swim, but floating will suffice.

2) I'll agree if that person, in turn, goes to the University of Maryland, College Park and tries to stop 80-mph shots aimed at his or her body or head by former Syracuse All-America midfielder Gary Gait for two hours.

Deal, anyone?

It's not that these other so-called sports are that bad (some are), but when was the last time your child said he wanted to grow up and win the fencing gold?

If the IOC conducted focus-group studies in various countries, showing film of lacrosse compared to some of these other sports, the bet here is that lacrosse would be the preferred choice, except for those fascinated by bodies in bikinis.

It's an exciting, fast-paced game that should be strongly considered by the IOC. Some 1,500 high schools have the sport in the United States, along with 80,000 people who play it in 23 countries in one form or another.

That's probably more participants than in fencing or beach volleyball. But the IOC may not accept lacrosse as a sport for possibly another decade.

Steve Stenersen, executive director of US Lacrosse, which is located in Baltimore, said lacrosse still has its share of problems, the foremost being that the sport is not played in 75 countries, as required by the IOC for men, or the 40 for women.

"Our game is played on five continents," said Stenersen, chairman of the International Development Committee that helps to develop the sport in other countries. "But we do need to increase our international exposure. Right now, we're only giving that part-time attention, because our representatives also have to serve the needs of their own countries.

"The good news is that the number of teams competing for a world championship has doubled. In 1990, it was six. Now it's 12.

"But we also have eight countries right now that we're supporting, either through equipment grants, coaches, or technical needs," Stenersen said. "To go into a country and start a sport from ground zero is a monumental task."

That's an area in which the IOC should ease its standards. It's relatively easy to start and get sponsorship for individual sports, such as swimming, or for small-team sports, such as beach volleyball. Heck, Pakistan has a one-man swimming team.

But for lacrosse, we're talking at least 20 players on a roster and a sport that doesn't yet have the worldwide appeal of soccer or basketball. Yet Stenersen helped start the sport in Japan in 1989-90, and the country now has 15,000 players, which outnumbers the number of varsity members on American college teams.

"You have got to find some real special people in each country to come out say, 'Hey, the four of us are going to start lacrosse in Korea,'" Stenersen said.

"In beach volleyball, two people can compete as a team. The whole Jamaican bobsled thing - a few guys in Jamaica could qualify, because they only needed three to four guys. Teaching a new sport in a nation is tougher than trying to teach a few guys to play tennis or form a kayaking team."

Besides increasing the exposure, lacrosse must also find one governing body. There are now two, the International Lacrosse Federation and International Federation of Women's Lacrosse Association.

"The IOC doesn't base its decision strictly on numbers, but administration as well," Stenersen said. "The IOC doesn't recognize more than one international governing body of any sport, and right now, we have two. There have been talks, and they are still underway, but we've got to get that straightened out first.

"Once unified and we get a full-time staff together to increase our international exposure, we can form unified national governing bodies in all developed and emerging lacrosse nations," Stenersen said. "To cut to the chase, maybe in my lifetime, we will get to the point where we can make a presentation. It will be awhile before we're knocking on the door of the IOC."

But who knows? The IOC is a billion-dollar industry. A few mutual funds or possible scholarships for children of committee members might change their minds. There is always an angle to work, like with beach volleyball, which has buff bodies that help TV ratings.

If fencing and badminton, why not lacrosse? Is there any dumber sport than synchronized swimming?

"It's hard to determine these days what's a sport and what isn't," Stenersen said. "I think we have a pretty good game."


Days until opening ceremony: 8.

Update: The International Olympic Committee opened three days of executive board meetings in Sydney. A full session of the IOC will take place next Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

March to the medals: Defending tennis gold medalist Andre Agassi pulled out of the Olympics because of concern for his mother and sister, who are fighting breast cancer.

Carrying the torch: A day after a 12-year-old torch relay runner burned her thumb when a flame burst from the torch, the route took the torch onto a ski lift for a ride to the top of Mount Crackenback.

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