This week, if you looked up the dictionary definition for the word ‘sportsmanship,’ there’s a good chance you might have seen a picture of Ireland’s national lacrosse team there.
That’s because rather than looking to their own interests, they ceded their spot at the World Lacrosse Games 2022 to a Native American Iroquois squad who’d been shut out of the international competition on a technicality.
The eight teams slotted to play in the tournament were selected on the basis of where their team ranked at the end of the 2018 Federation of International Lacrosse World Championship. The Iroquois Nationals came in third. Ireland finished 12th.
Since the Iroquois are not recognized as a sovereign nation nor do they have an Olympic Committee, the International World Games Association (IWGA) initially disqualified them from championship play.
In August, the IWGA reversed its decision, but with the roster already set, the point seemed moot—until team Ireland changed the game.
In a statement, Michael Kennedy, chief executive officer of Ireland Lacrosse said, “It’s simply the right thing to do… As much as our players would have been honored to compete, we know the right thing is for the Iroquois Nationals to represent our sport on this international stage.”
For Immediate Release- Ireland Lacrosse Voluntarily Withdraws from TWG 2022 @IrelandLacrosse @IrelandMLax pic.twitter.com/637BpgtNPf
— World Lacrosse (@worldlaxsport) September 3, 2020
“You have gone above and beyond not only for us, but for what you believe is right,” the Iroquois Nationals tweeted in response. “Your actions have spoken louder than words showing everyone the true power of sport, and the spirit of lacrosse. We will never forget that.”
You have gone above and beyond not only for us, but for what you believe is right.
Your actions have spoken louder than words showing everyone the true power of sport, and the spirit of lacrosse.
We will never forget that.
— IROQUOIS NATIONALS LACROSSE (@IRQ_Nationals) September 3, 2020
In an interview with US Lacrosse Magazine, World Lacrosse Chief Executive Officer Jim Scherr said, “Some of the most inspiring gestures in international sport are when athletes from one team reach across and lend their support to athletes from another. That’s exactly what…the membership of Ireland Lacrosse have done, and we should all be inspired by their example.”
While it might seem unusual for athletes from such far-flung locales to make this kind of sacrifice for another team, it’s far from the first time Native Americans and the Irish have reached out to help one another in troubled times.
During the Irish Potato Famine, even though impoverished themselves, the Choctaw tribe sent a monetary donation to help alleviate suffering across the ocean.
The Irish recently returned the gesture, donating generously to a GoFundMe campaign that benefits Native American tribes particularly hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
We heartily applaud Ireland’s national lacrosse team for reminding us by example that true sportsmanship is built on a foundation of fairness and courtesy. Sometimes, walking the walk means giving up glory in the name of a greater good—and that is what being a winner is all about.