I've been at the 2010 Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) Men's World Championship in Manchester for the last couple of weeks. The event includes a record number of competing nations (30) and incorporates the FIL General Assembly of member nations, as well as meetings of the International Development Committee and European Lacrosse Federation. The English Lacrosse Association has done a wonderful job hosting the largest international event in lacrosse history and has set the bar high for US Lacrosse when we host the event at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Denver from July 10-19, 2014.
The big story of the event so far has obviously been the eleventh-hour diplomatic complications that prevented the Iroquois Nationals -- who were widely believed to have the most competitive side in the history of their program -- from attending the event. As is typically the case, some people have been quick to assign blame for the circumstances that led to the Iroquois withdrawal. All of the correspondence I have seen or received has been based more on emotion than fact, however. There is no question that the FIL and each of its member nations are strong advocates of the Iroquois Nationals' recognition as an independent member of the FIL, which is unique in sport, for all of the right reasons. Perhaps all of the facts of this matter will ultimately be made public in time, but I believe this disappointing episode in international lacrosse history has been a hard but ultimately valuable experience for all parties involved.
Although the media has understandably been focused on the political components of this story and the disappointment of the Iroquois Nationals program, there is an angle to the story that has been virtually ignored -- the efforts of the English Lacrosse Association and FIL leadership to make major last-minute changes to the event format and logistics required by the Iroquois Natioanls' absence. English Lacrosse Association Chief Executive David Shuttleworth went so far as to describe the withdrawal of one of the best teams in the world as "catastrophic" to the success of the world championship, which has a budget in excess of $2 million and required the dedication of hundreds of volunteers and numerous staff for the past four years. However, event organizers and the FIL were exemplary and poised in reacting to the circumstances and, within hours of confirming the absence of the Iroquois, had adjusted the divisions and schedules successfully. Germany, which ultimately filled the vacancy in the Blue Division, deserves particular recognition for selflessly and enthusiastically accepting the challenge to compete in pool play against the best teams in the world.
In addition to world championship play, the event includes dozens of other teams from around the world competing in youth, high school, club and masters competitions associated with the event. In one of the final games of the Super Masters Division, American Mike Fisher received a particularly moving tribute. Fisher, 72, is one of the "fathers" of masters play in the United States and has competed in dozens of events throughout the world. He recently confided to friends and teammates that Manchester would be his last competition as a player, and they quietly conspired to appropriately recognize his longstanding passion and contributions to the sport. Unbeknownst to Fisher, all players on both teams in his last game were in on the tribute. In the middle of the game, as he waited for a faceoff from his attack position, all players suddenly dropped their sticks and gloves, turned to face him, and applauded furiously to thank him for his leadership and inspiration. I have no doubt that Mike will continue to be an important part of masters lacrosse in the years to come…and will do as much off the field as he did on it to encourage players -- regardless of age -- that they can rekindle friendships and continue to experience the joy of lacrosse through masters play. Congratulations and thank you, Mike Fisher.