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Lacrosse World Championships 2018

Men's World Championships

Originally, the 2018 World Championships were scheduled to take place in England in July 2018. Unfortunately, the England camp withdrew their bid in 2017, explaining rather mysteriously that the financial risk was too high. So at fairly short notice, a replacement venue needed to be found, and Israel was chosen.

Needless to say, this announcement was very disappointing to those (like myself) who had already planned to travel to England to attend the championships. But it's also a huge disappointment to those (like myself) who object to the behaviour of the Israel state, its de facto apartheid, its brutal treatment of its neighbours and its wilful disrespect to the United Nations and the International Criminal Court.

Israel appears by its repeated actions to not want peace at all, and appears only interested in maintaining its enormously well-funded military dominance over its neighbours, building illegal settlements and abusing the UN veto process. The sport of lacrosse and the international lacrosse community should not be used as a sign of international approval for what Israel does, and just because Israel was allowed to play host on this occasion does not mean that Israel's behaviour is deemed acceptable.

Countries

The Wikipedia page shows a good overview of the tournament and the participating nations. The original list of 48 countries was eventually cut down to 46 and the groups were reorganised a little. But it is still 8 more teams than participated in 2014.

Two teams dropped out of this year's competition (Thailand and Costa Rica), 1 team returned to the fray after missing 2014 (Denmark) and 9 teams participated for the first time (Peru, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Luxembourg, Greece, Taiwan, Hungary, Croatia and Jamaica). The Puerto Rico lacrosse team however seems to be made entirely of USA-based players who qualify to play "for" Puerto Rico, for example via a grandparent. Given that all Puerto Rico citizens are citizens of the US, one has to wonder whether this is really a new nation taking part in the World Championships, or just another USA team.

Groups

Like previous lacrosse championships, and unlike the football world cup, the groups are split very deliberately and are very far from being even. So the blue division contains the top 6 teams in the world, and the four semi-finalists of the whole competition are very very likely to all come from this blue group - USA, Canada, Iroquois, Australia, England and Scotland. Why Scotland, instead of maybe Germany or Japan? Probably because the Scottish team have been doing surprisingly well lately, perhaps because over half their team appears to come from the US or Canada.

Instead of creating a "second tier" group of interestingly-strong nations like Germany, Ireland, Japan, Sweden and Wales, the organisers decided to deliberately scatter these teams into separate groups. Which means that instead of exciting group matches between these talented teams, the group matches became predictable slaughterfests of 19-2, 24-3 or 17-1. The only surprises were the debut performances of the USA-Puerto Rico team (beating Wales, Germany and Japan!!) and the USA-Philippines team (beating the Czech Republic, Switzerland and Scotland!!).

Rankings

After the group round, the rankings didn't produce a huge number of surprises, and even though USA-Israel and USA-Puerto Rico made it through to the playoffs (and hence the potential for a top-four place), the semi-finalists turned out to be (as could have been predicted) the USA 1, Canada, Australia and the Iroquois.

Without much drama, the USA and Canada made it through to the final, and although the final score was very close, the USA came out once again unbeaten winners of the tournament. Scotland, however, struggled in the knockout stages and lost to Japan and the Philippines, finishing in 11th place below five non-blue-division teams. Meanwhile England managed to turn around a 7-0 deficit against Japan to secure a last-quarter victory and a very respectable fifth place in the world.

The exhaustive final standings list is on Wikipedia so there's no reason to repeat them here, suffice it to say that the top four were more or less as expected (USA, Canada, Iroquois, Australia), England snatched fifth from Japan, and Germany joined the USA-bolstered teams of Israel, Puerto Rico and the Philippines in the following four places. Wales finished in 14th place, behind the tantalising newcomers Jamaica. They may well be disappointed with this result, and would have placed higher if Puerto Rico hadn't been placed in the same group. And Sweden, despite winning their group, slipped down to 25th place. And poor Luxembourg, despite the honour of playing the opening match of the tournament, ended up in 46th place out of 46, winless with only 30 goals after 7 games.

Lessons learned

The huge variety of playing levels between the dozens of countries involved makes it increasingly challenging to organise. It's great that they strive to produce the whole ranking from 1 to 46 (for the benefit of all teams) rather than just concentrate on a knockout competition to find the winner. But the groups system seemed to artificially strive to make the group games uninteresting, and the closer matchups only started to appear in the following rounds. Plus, having 46 teams in a championship is just a little ridiculous. Let the European Championships cater to European teams, and let just the best go through to the Worlds.

The main problem, however, is the barely-concealed loading of newcomer countries' teams with established North American players. This was already noticed in previous competitions with USA players playing for Israel and Canadian players playing for Scotland. But with this year's rosters for Puerto Rico and the Philippines it brings the whole system into question. How can a team like Germany, with an established club scene and years of community-building effort, compete against newcomer teams who just take US players who don't even need to have a passport for the countries (or US territories) they're playing for? In some cases the players have never even been to the countries they represent, let alone ever been resident there, or had a parent who was ever resident there.

If residency doesn't matter, then how about requiring all players on a team to have the nationality they're representing, or maybe even require that they only have the nationality they're representing (no dual-nationals)? Or how about forcing the tryouts for team selection to be actually in the country being represented, and not in various locations in the USA?

Maybe it's a bit too controversial to suggest, but maybe representing a country isn't the right thing to do at a championship like this, anwyay. Who's to say that the USA can only field one team, or that Great Britain should field three? Why not have a Scandinavian team, or a Western Canada team, or an EU-team? Splitting up the USA and Canadian teams is unlikely to be a popular move for those who like winning World Championships, but maybe merging superteams to compete against them might work. It's already been speculated that the 2022 World Championships will be reduced to 30 teams, so maybe there has already been some thinking in this direction.

Finally, there needs to be more effort put into the television and online video coverage. There should be far more people hearing about these championships, and it should be far easier to stumble upon highlight footage. Quality videos should be on youtube and other such places, and people who want more should be able to buy more. People who don't follow lacrosse should know that the finals are coming up!

Israel should be forced to the negotiating table (by means of boycotts, sanctions and cuts in military "aid") and should publicly choose between a one-state solution (guaranteeing equal rights) or a proposal for a two-state solution.