Ireland have withdrawn their lacrosse team from a tournament they had qualified for so that the Native American team named the Iroquois Nationals can take part in their place.
Native Americans invented the sport and it is said to symbolize to them a spiritual ritual to honor, heal, and celebrate individuals and communities. It’s sometimes called ‘the medicine game’ for this reason.
The Irish team has forfeited their place in the men’s 2022 World Games in Birmingham, Alabama, clearing the way for the Iroquois Nationals who represent the Haudenosaunee, a confederacy of six First Nations.
The Iroquois Nationals were previously not eligible to play at the Games as the International World Games Association (IWGA) eligibility rules, like International Olympic Committee regulations, did not recognise them as representing a state.
However, following a U-turn, the team is now eligible. The Haudenosaunee Nation – a confederation of Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora Nations – invented lacrosse and they participate in international tournaments as an independent team.
Excluding them from the tournament considering their contribution to the sport and all it means to them did not sit right with Ireland or the entire lacrosse community.
When the IWGA reversed their decision meaning the Iroquois Nationals would be eligible to compete, Lacrosse Ireland made the decision, as the lowest ranked country, to voluntarily relinquish its position in the tournament.
Michael Kennedy, chief executive of Ireland Lacrosse, said the organisation’s Board of Directors, coaches and athletes were all in favour of the move to vacate Ireland’s place at the World Games.
“It’s simply the right thing to do,” Kennedy said.
“We are a proud member of World Lacrosse and we recognise the importance of The World Games to the continued growth of our sport.
“As much as our players would have been honoured to compete, we know the right thing is for the Iroquois Nationals to represent our sport on this international stage.”
At the 2018 World Championship, Ireland finished 12th while the Iroquois Nationals came third.
“Once World Lacrosse received the welcome news from the IWGA that the Iroquois Nationals are eligible for selection, we knew it was time to play our part and voluntarily step aside.
“There’s something special about lacrosse.
“It originated with Native American Indians, the Iroquois.
“They are the spiritual part of the game and they say that they received the game from the Creator, it’s something special to have that connection.
“There was so much more to be gained for the sport as a whole than for Ireland to gain from that one tournament. It was the right decision to pull out to enable the Iroquois to take part.”
The selfless sacrifice has earned Ireland plaudits in the lacrosse world.
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 Michael and the membership of Ireland Lacrosse have done, and we should all be inspired by their example.”
World Lacrosse will now put forward its eight eligible teams, including the Iroquois Nationals.
This is the second time this year that Native American people have had reason to thank Ireland.
The Irish World reported in May that Irish donors had sent money to native American tribes badly hit by the coronavirus to repay the kindness the Choctaw Nation tribe showed Ireland during the Great Famine.
The Navajo Nation had more confirmed cases per capita of COVID-19 than 48 US states.
Navajo and Hopi families set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for food, water, essential supplies and personal protective equipment, which had raised more than $1.67m with the Irish singled out for their support.
Several donations came from Ireland, inspired by the help provided by the Choctaw Nation tribe during the famine.
The native American tribe donated $170 — the equivalent of $5,000 today — to help the Irish people in 1847.
Around 60,000 native Americans, including the Choctaw, had suffered through the Trail of Tears, a series of forced relocations from their ancestral homelands during which thousands died from starvation, disease and exposure.
In 1847 the Choctaw Nation, fresh off the Trail of Tears, heard of the Irish Famine and sent help from far away.
Their Covid-19 appeal got messages of gratitude and solidarity from Irish donors.
Irish donor Pat Hayes said: “From Ireland, 170 years later, the favour is returned! To our Native American brothers and sisters in your moment of hardship.”
Another said: “They didn’t forget us. We won’t forget them.”
One of the campaign’s organisers, Vanessa Tulley, wrote: “The heartache is real.
“We have lost so many of our sacred Navajo elders and youth to Covid-19. It is truly devastating. And a dark time in history for our Nation.
“In moments like these, we are so grateful for the love and support we have received from all around the world. Acts of kindness from indigenous ancestors passed being reciprocated nearly 200 years later through blood memory and interconnectedness.
“Thank you, Ireland, for showing solidarity and being here for us.”