ISRAEL IS SET to kick off hosting the 2018 FIL World Lacrosse Championship with a match against Jamaica tonight at the Netanya Stadium. .
(photo credit: ISRAEL LACROSSE)
Israel will host the World Lacrosse Championship (WLC) beginning on July 11 in Netanya as it welcomes teams from 46 countries and thousands of fans for the biggest Federation of International Lacrosse event to date.
Occurring every four years, the championship dates back to 1967. It has been dominated by two teams: Canada and the United States. Canada is the reigning champion and has won three of 12 WLC titles. The United States has been victorious the other nine times.
No country outside of United States, England, Canada and Australia has hosted the WLC before Israel. English Lacrosse withdrew its bid to host the tournament in May 2017 citing financial risk. Israel Lacrosse Association assembled a bid in three weeks and submitted it in July to become the host nation.
For Israel, hosting the WLC is a huge boost for one of its fastest growing sports. The Israel Lacrosse Association (ILA) was founded in 2011. Now more than 2,000 children are playing the sport at some level. In fact, the first generation of players who grew up playing lacrosse here are now old enough to compete on the national team.
For those unfamiliar with lacrosse, the sport originated as stickball, a sport played by Native Americans. According to the Federation of International Lacrosse, anywhere from 500 to 100,000 players would play in a game. A French Jesuit missionary observed the game being played by the Huron Indians in 1636 and called it “lacrosse.”
Modern field lacrosse is a contact sport in which two teams compete for possession of a rubber ball using metal sticks with mesh nets. Points are scored by shooting the ball into the opposing team’s net. Different positions have different sticks: attackers have a short pole for possession and mobility, defenders have long sticks for checking the ball out of attackers’ nets and blocking shots and goalies have short sticks with wide nets to make saves. Ten teammates can be on the field at a time and teams carry 23 men on their rosters.
Over 150 games are slated over the 10 days of the tournament. The teams are divided into 11 groups. These teams will play each member of their group over the first four days before the play-in bracket is determined. The Blue group, by far the most impressive of them all, is exempt from the play-in stage. It comprises Australia, Canada, England, the Iroquois Nation, Scotland and the United States.
The United States announced in January that it will bring eight veterans from its 2014 silver-winning team to Netanya. The 23-man American roster includes alumni of 13 different colleges and one current student, University of Denver senior Trevor Baptiste. In the 2014 WLC in Denver, Colorado, the United States won all five of its games in the group stage, but fell to Canada 8-5 in the gold-medal contest.
While the United States was announcing its roster in January, the Canadian team was surrounded by uncertainty. The Canadian Lacrosse Association (CLA) and National Lacrosse Team Players Association were in a major dispute. Players were looking for better health insurance, removal of participation fees and a movement towards re-establishing the CLA’s charity status with the Canada Revenue Agency for both men’s and women’s teams. The starters boycotted league activities (including the 2018 WLC) and the selected replacement players turned down invitations for the national team, too. It seemed like Canada would not field a team.
But that changed in June when the two parties came to an agreement in June to tentatively solve the conflict. The Canadians will be coming to Israel after all with a roster of 10 athletes from their 2014 gold medal roster. The predominant storyline of the WLC, United States’ attempt at revenge against Canada, has been saved.
Several other teams, mostly from the Blue division, are worth keeping an eye on as well.
The Iroquois won the bronze medal game in 2014 and their storied relationship with lacrosse commands respect. They are the only Native American team authorized to play a sport internationally.
Australia is also a renowned power in the sport. Although the country has hosted three WLCs in the championship’s history, they failed to medal in 2014 when they finished in fourth place. They will look to turn it around in Netanya.
Scotland is worth keep an eye on, too. They surged from the white division into sixth place last year, which earned them a spot in the Blue division for 2018. The Scots were defeated by England, traditionally a world lacrosse mainstay, in a close fifth place game last year. Lacrosse fans should watch both teams closely.
Then there’s Israel. They defeated a capable Japan team in 2014 to claim seventh place, a remarkable achievement considering how young the sport still is here. The native Israelis on the national team will be joined by US players who have made aliyah. They will compete in a relatively weak red division against Russia and Jamaica in the group stage.
The United States versus Canada will surely be the main story of the tournament. It has been for the last 50 years. But the world of lacrosse will be keeping an eye on Israel, the fastest adopter of lacrosse in the world, to see what it can do on its home field.