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President Biden calls for Indigenous athlete team, flag in 2028 Olympic lacrosse

Haudenosaunee Lacrosse

Limerick , Ireland - 17 August 2022; Koleton Marquis of Haudenosaunee and Daniel Flisk of England during the 2022 World Lacrosse Men’s U21 World Championship quarter final match between England and Haudenosaunee at the University of Limerick in Limerick. (Photo By Tom Beary/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Sportsfile via Getty Images

President Joe Biden supports the idea of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, a collection of six Indigenous nations in upstate New York and Canada, competing under its own flag in lacrosse’s return to the Olympics in 2028 in Los Angeles.

In planned remarks at this week’s White House Tribal Nations Summit, Biden cites the Haudenosaunee’s role in inventing the sport. Variations of the game have Indigenous North American roots in the 12th century, according to World Lacrosse, the sport’s international governing body.

In October, the IOC approved an LA 2028 proposal to add five sports strictly for that edition of the Olympics. That included lacrosse, which was last contested at the Olympics as an exhibition in 1948 and part of the official program in 1904 and 1908.

The qualifying process for the 2028 Games is expected to be finalized after the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Traditionally, Olympic athletes must be entered by a National Olympic Committee (NOC), such as the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, whose athletes compete strictly under the American flag. Even if supported by the U.S. government and the USOPC, the IOC has the final say on whether the Haudenosaunee can field their own team at an Olympics.

Leo Nolan, the executive director of the Haudenosaunee national team, said World Lacrosse has had preliminary talks with the IOC regarding the Haudenosaunee and hopes they continue over the next few months.

“We respect the Olympic Games format,” Nolan said. “We don’t want to break any bounds that may not be the best interest of the Olympic Movement, so we’re very conscious of how we go about making those movements toward our inclusion.”

In a joint statement, World Lacrosse and Haudenosaunee Nationals Lacrosse thanked Biden for the support.

“Recognition of the cultural significance of lacrosse to the Haudenosaunee people — and the Haudenosaunee people to lacrosse — is an important step in our Olympic journey,” it read. “The Olympic Games are the most powerful platform for promoting understanding and peace among nations. We look forward to continuing to collaborate with the International Olympic Committee, LA28, and the U.S. and Canadian Olympic Committees to explore potential pathways for the Haudenosaunee to participate in the Olympics while respecting the Olympic Games framework.”

USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland has also backed honoring the Haudenosaunee. If the IOC approves an Olympic pathway, she told The Associated Press, “We would want to make sure that everyone feels that the process to get there is very, very fair.”

A Haudenosaunee men’s national team debuted in 1983, was recognized by World Lacrosse in 1988 and has participated regularly at world championships since 1990. A women’s national team competed at worlds for the first time in 2009.

The Haudenosaunee men are ranked No. 3 in the world and the women No. 8. The U.S. and Canada are Nos. 1 and 2 in both rankings.

Nolan said the Haudenosaunee are optimistic about becoming Olympic eligible.

“I know it’s a bit of a challenge,” he said. “We look forward to working with and collaborating with the International Olympic Committee because they’ll be the ultimate deciding factor. We want to make sure that they understand the importance of lacrosse to our communities and to the world.”