U.S. Rule Could Keep Iroquois From Lacrosse Event

The Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team has been delayed from traveling to the World Lacrosse Championships. The team claims this is due to some members holding passports issued by the Iroquois confederacy. Robert Siegel talks to S.L. Price, senior writer for Sports Illustrated, who's been following the story

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

Okay, it's not the World Cup. But even so, this week's world championship of lacrosse in Manchester, England, promises to be the biggest ever, with teams representing 30 countries, or maybe 29 countries.

The daunting challenge of managing a tournament with that unwieldy prime number of teams comes about as a result of a passport dispute. And the team that may or may not take part is the national team of the Iroquois Confederacy, straddling upstate New York and Canada.

The Iroquois invented the game. More to the point, they also invented their own passport.

S.L. Price or Scott price has covered this story for Sports Illustrated and joins us now. And, Scott Price, tell us about the Iroquois passports and what the problem with them is.

PRICE: Well, the Iroquois have been traveling on these passports since 1977. And more to the point, with the nationals, they've been competing and traveling on these passports since 1990. But last week they were told the British consulate was looking to issue their visas, but they wanted assurance from the U.S. government that those passports would be honored and that the Iroquois would be allowed back into the United States.

Led by Homeland Security and officials from the State Department, as well, they were told they could not guarantee that they would issue clearance for those passports. And now, as a result, the Iroquois have missed their original flight which was yesterday, and are in New York City awaiting a resolution of this issue.

This Thursday, they're scheduled to open the tournament against host England. And at this point they're completely in a stalemate and don't know if they're going to make it to England.

SIEGEL: But you say that the Iroquois lacrosse team has been able to travel with this passport of the Iroquois nation for years, and they've been able to come back to the U.S.

PRICE: Yeah, it's a strange issue because the Iroquois consider themselves to be a sovereign nation. The U.S. has offered, for example in this instance, that they can travel on U.S. passports and they'll expedite the issuance of U.S. passports in one day.

But the Iroquois stance on that is very simple. They're representing a nation, and they're not going to travel on the passport of a competitor. As was said to me, you know, would you expect Canada to go to England under U.S. passports and compete against the U.S.?

So the U.S. does not recognize officially the Iroquois as a sovereign nation, but there's been an almost don't-ask-don't-tell sort of situation with the passports. There hasn't been a hard line taken on them.

But now that the British are asking for a written assurance of their return, I think the U.S. is taking a hard line on it.

SIEGEL: They raise the example of the Canadians to you, but, you know, this championship is being held in Manchester, and there's a team from Wales that is going, and although they don't have to cross international borders, if they did, it would be with a U.K. passport.

PRICE: Absolutely. It's a strange issue, but the Iroquois are extremely adamant about this. They want the right to be able to travel on these passports, and for the moment, they're not budging.

SIEGEL: Finish this sentence for me: A world lacrosse championship without the Iroquois national team is like soccer's World Cup without blank.

PRICE: To hear the English say, it would be without England because the English say they invented soccer. Look, they're not just a decorative team. The Iroquois have finished fourth in the last three world championships. They have great players in Cody Jamieson(ph), Sid Smith(ph), Jeremy Thompson(ph) and Gewas Schindler(ph).

They are a formidable force at the top level of the game, and world championships without the Iroquois not only would lack something spiritual, in the sense that these are the game's inventors, but the very quality of the tournament would be greatly affected if they are not there.

SIEGEL: Some of the players on the Iroquois national team have been very, very good U.S. lacrosse players in college, yes?

PRICE: Absolutely. A year and a half ago, Sid Smith, a defender for Syracuse and a Cayuga on the Iroquois Nationals team, made the play of the finals, stripped the Cornell player of the ball and passed it up field, got it up to Cody Jamieson, a teammate on the Nationals, who scored the game-winning goal in the final of the NCAA tournament.

This is a top-level team, and to not have the Iroquois at the world championships is something that would delegitimize, I feel, the world championships greatly.

SIEGEL: Scott Price, thanks for talking with us.

PRICE: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Scott or S.L. Price is a senior writer for Sports Illustrated.

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