The summer of lacrosse continues.
Between last month’s Women’s World Championship at Towson University’s Johnny Unitas Stadium, Wednesday’s Men’s World Championship in Ireland and the Premier Lacrosse League and Athletes Unlimited Lacrosse professional seasons, news surfaced last week that lacrosse is one of nine sports shortlisted for inclusion at the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.
“It’s been an incredible summer coming out of the World Championships and heading into the AU season,” Athletes Unlimited founder and CEO Jon Patricof said. “It’s just been spectacular. So the enthusiasm I am seeing across the board has never been higher.”
On Tuesday at 11 a.m., World Lacrosse, the sport’s governing body, will launch a campaign to amplify its bid to return to the Olympics, where lacrosse was a medal sport at the 1904 and 1908 Games in St. Louis and London, respectively, and a demonstration sport in 1928 in Amsterdam, 1932 in Los Angeles and 1948 in London.
Called “LAX: Indigenous Made, Globally Played” and utilizing the social media hashtag #LAX28, the promotion is designed to highlight the sport’s heritage and Olympic credentials and showcase its scale as an international sport with communities in 77 countries that sponsor men’s and women’s lacrosse.
“The prospect of the sport being in the Olympics adds just further energy and fuel to what is already a tremendous amount of momentum that exists,” Patricof said.
A campaign video will be shared across World Lacrosse’s social media platforms and the International Federation’s member nations and four Continental Federations. Professional leagues — including Athletes Unlimited, the National Lacrosse League and the PLL — will also participate.
“I think there’s no better game to have reintroduced into the Olympics than the first game of North America,” Premier Lacrosse League co-founder and former All-American Johns Hopkins midfielder Paul Rabil wrote in an email. “The amount of collective effort that it’s taken to get to this moment is special, and we’re proud to be a part of the continued growth at the professional and international levels.”
The timing is intentional as Tuesday is also the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. Lacrosse was first played by Native American communities in North America as early as the 1100s.
“It’s a great day to celebrate this gift that they’ve given us all, and we hope that we can share lacrosse with a wider world audience if we’re included in the Olympic Games,” World Lacrosse CEO Jim Scherr said.
Lacrosse is one of nine sports invited by the Los Angeles organizing committee and the International Olympic Committee’s programming commission to present its case for inclusion at the 2028 Games. The others are baseball-softball, breakdancing, cricket, flag football, karate, kickboxing, motorsport and squash.
While Scherr said a timetable for presentations is uncertain, he said the Los Angeles organizing committee and the IOC’s programming commission are expected to make their recommendations to the IOC executive board either late this year or early next.
It’s an incredibly tense time for us because we’re in the middle of this process. But if we’re not in, we’ll keep working toward Olympic inclusion,” Scherr said. “We have a strong Olympic history from 1948, and we want to bring the game back to the Olympics.”
Longtime supporters of the sport have emphasized its growth around the globe. The number of women’s national teams that tried out for qualifiers for the World Championship increased from 27 in 2017 to nearly 40 in 2021. The World Championships earned more than 6 million digitally-viewed minutes on ESPN.
The Under-21 World Championship is scheduled to begin with eight men’s teams making their tournament debuts: Jamaica, Kenya, Latvia, Netherlands, Poland, Puerto Rico, Sweden and Uganda.
In the United States, more than 2 million people play lacrosse, according to World Lacrosse. The sport at the NCAA level has expanded to 912 teams with more than 28,000 athletes.
In April, Athletes Unlimited and ESPN announced a partnership to broadcast every game on the media giant’s platform. And in June, a Premier Lacrosse League game on ABC attracted an average of 452,000 viewers with a peak total of 623,000, making it the most watched professional outdoor lacrosse game in history.
Athletes Unlimited’s Patricof said the sport is connecting with more casual fans and growing as a result.
“Having our games on ESPN and ESPN+ is not only making them available in the United States, but also around the world, and that has been a huge piece of the overall strategies that we’re putting in place,” he said. “That is a big part of what the Olympics indicate in terms of global movement, that we’re all trying to reach and provide content for the lacrosse families, but we’re also trying to expand the sport much more broadly, create access points, and introduce new players into the game.”
To further generate interest from international viewers, lacrosse has offered to go to a 6-on-6 format for both genders for Olympic play compared to 10-on-10 and 12-on-12 competition in the men’s and women’s games, respectively. Combined with shot clocks, smaller fields and faceoffs only to begin quarters, the smaller format will promote an attacking strategy that spotlights speed and skill.
Premier Lacrosse League’s Rabil said the Sixes game, as the new format is called, can attract newcomers.
“This version of lacrosse will be a fan favorite,” he wrote in an email. “So it’s incumbent on our sport’s presentation to articulate that and pass forward the community sentiment of the history of the game.”
Newer sports have recently gained footholds at the Olympic level. The 2020 Games in Tokyo added baseball-softball, karate, skateboarding, sports climbing and surfing. Breakdancing will join skateboarding, sports climbing and surfing at the 2024 Games in Paris.
Although he stressed that past results are no indicator of future outcomes, Scherr said he believes lacrosse’s candidacy for the 2028 Games is strong.
“Lacrosse has been the fastest-growing sport in North America and one of the fastest-growing sports around the world and the fastest-growing team sport in the world. So we’re really optimistic from that perspective,” he said. “But I also think that lacrosse and the values of the game transcend to the Olympic arena very well, and it’s an incredibly exciting sport. ... I think it would be a great addition to the L.A. Games.”