Why the Iroquois Can't Win the Lacrosse Championship

As North Korea’s reported move to hire Chinese actors to play “fans” during the Thousand-Mile Horse’s triumphant march to the World Cup (I’m sorry; this joke never expires for me) reminded us, international sport churns out some strange stories. The most postmodern of recent memory: the entangled passport dispute that prevented the Iroquois Confederacy’s national lacrosse team from participating in the sport’s world championship, taking place this week in the United Kingdom.

This was a Kafka-esque saga all the way around. A half-millennium-old tribal nation attempts to send a team to the championships of a sport that it invented, only to be turned away because modern nation-states refuse to recognize tribal passports for security reasons. But aside from the puzzling and maddening details, the story’s most startling yield was simply this: the Iroquois Confederacy has a national lacrosse team.

As it turns out, the Iroquois Nationals are the only internationally recognized Native American team in any sport, and they are no novelty act. They are ranked fourth by the Federation of International Lacrosse, particularly impressive given the Confederacy’s enrolled population of just 125,000. The Nationals's indoor side finished second in the 2007 world championship.


Sadly, international lacrosse’s premier event is now unfolding without the Iroquois. The mind-bogglingly complex tournament bracket will crown a global champion on July 24—a result that this weird controversy over the sport’s most distinctive team is bound to overshadow. The most we casual observers can do is try to reserve a tiny corner of our sporting consciousness for this unique facet of international athletic culture, and wait four years.



Photo via the Nationals website.

via Douglas Muth / Flickr

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