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Biden backs an Indigenous lacrosse team for the 2028 Olympics. It's an uphill fight

Supporters hold up a banner displaying the Haudenosaunee Confederacy as they cheer for the Haudenosaunee Nationals during a July 23, 2023 match against England in San Diego, Calif.
Alan Nakkash For NPR
Supporters hold up a banner displaying the Haudenosaunee Confederacy as they cheer for the Haudenosaunee Nationals during a July 23, 2023 match against England in San Diego, Calif.

Updated December 7, 2023 at 1:10 PM ET

President Biden has thrown his support behind an Indigenous lacrosse team that wants to compete under its own flag in the 2028 Olympics. But it may be an uphill battle, as the International Olympic Committee has signaled resistance to amending its rules.

Lacrosse willreturn to the Olympics in 2028 for the first time in more than a century. The Haudenosaunee Nationals are a team of Indigenous players who compete internationally, winning the bronze medal at the men's World Lacrosse Championships in June. But they're not currently eligible for the Olympic games, because they don't represent a country with anational Olympics Committee.

At the White House's Tribal Nations Summit on Wednesday, President Biden said he hopes the Haudenosaunee can be an exception, citing the sport's Indigenous roots.

"Their ancestors invented the game. They perfected it for millenia. Their circumstances are unique. And they should be granted an exception to field their own team at the Olympics," Biden said.

So far, the IOC seems unwilling to grant an exception

The Haudenosaunee would become the first Indigenous nation to secure an Olympic berth, if the IOC allows them to compete.

But the IOC so far seems unwilling to grant an exception, telling NPR in a written statement: "Only National Olympic Committees (NOCs) recognized by the IOC can enter teams for the Olympic Games in accordance with the Olympic Charter. This means it is up to the two NOCs concerned (USA and Canada) — in coordination with World Lacrosse and the National Federations concerned — to decide if they include athletes from Haudenosaunee in their respective teams depending on the passport they hold."

There is a precedent for an exception to the IOC rules: the IOC allowed a team of refugees to compete at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

The Haudenosaunee Nationals listen to their national anthem at the World National Championship in July 2023.
/ Alan Nakkash For NPR
/
Alan Nakkash For NPR
The Haudenosaunee Nationals listen to their national anthem at the World National Championship in July 2023.

The Haudenosaunee Nationals had to fight to get into the 2022 Worlds

This is not the first time that the Haudenosaunee's eligibility has been a source of controversy for the sport. The Nationals were left off the invite list for the 2022 World Games because organizers said the team did not represent a "sovereign nation." A petition calling for the team's inclusion garnered 55,000 signatures, and the Irish national team dropped out of the tournament in order to give the Nationals a spot.

In July, Haudenosaunee leaders met with the White House to make their case to field their own team. The White House has said it wants to make a greater push to recognize the sovereignty of tribal nations.

The Haudenosaunee Confederacy is made up of six nations – the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, Senecas, and Tuscarora – and spans from central New York into Canada.

The team was founded as the Iroquois Nationals in the early 1980s, but modern-day Haudenosaunee consider "Iroquois" a derogatory term. The team name was officially changed last year.

Lacrosse originated with Indigenous peoples of North America, dating back to the 12th century. The sport has been played for centuries to mark celebration, and as a ceremonial "medicine game."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Haudenosaunee Nationals goalie Warren Hill leaps into the air during a match against England in July during the World Lacrosse Championships in San Diego — a contest won by Haudenosaunee 18-5.
/ Alan Nakkash For NPR
/
Alan Nakkash For NPR
Haudenosaunee Nationals goalie Warren Hill leaps into the air during a match against England in July during the World Lacrosse Championships in San Diego — a contest won by Haudenosaunee 18-5.

Lexie Schapitl is a production assistant with NPR's Washington Desk, where she produces radio pieces and digital content. She also reports from the field and assists with production of the NPR Politics Podcast.
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