Lacrosse, the official team sport of Maryland, a state that has been a talent hotbed for decades, will be an Olympic medal sport for the first time in over a century when the Summer Games return to Los Angeles in 2028.
Sixes, a fast-paced version of lacrosse played on a smaller field, was one of the five sports officially approved by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the organization announced Monday morning. Baseball/softball, cricket, flag football and squash were the others. Flag football and squash will be making their Olympic debuts.
Previously, lacrosse was included on the program at the St. Louis Games in 1904 and London Games in 1908. Lacrosse was also a demonstration sport at the Summer Olympics in 1928, 1932 and 1948.
“The choice of these five new sports is in line with the American sports culture and will showcase iconic American sports to the world, while bringing international sports to the United States,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in a statement. “These sports will make the Olympic Games LA28 unique. Their inclusion will allow the Olympic Movement to engage with new athlete and fan communities in the US and globally.”
The IOC considered criteria such as gender equality, athlete health and safety, and environmental sustainability when weighing new sports for approval.
“I have long believed that we have an incredible opportunity in Los Angeles to create the most compelling Games, not just for us, but for the world,” LA28 Chairperson Casey Wasserman added. “Our Olympic sport program, in its entirety, reflects this belief. We are excited to embark on game-changing collaborations with major professional leagues that will unlock massive opportunities to amplify the Olympic and Paralympic story and captivate new audiences.”
Marc Riccio, CEO of the sport’s governing body in America, USA Lacrosse, said he was thrilled by the decision.
“In some ways, it feels like we’ve reached the finish line with so many people working towards this goal for so many years,” he said in a statement. “In reality, this is the beginning of a bright new future. The Olympics gives our sport the platform and visibility to achieve unprecedented growth. We can’t wait to get started on the next chapter in the sport’s history.”
USA Lacrosse is headquartered in Sparks, Maryland, in northern Baltimore County.
The approval of lacrosse marks a rewarding moment for other local stakeholders, including Johns Hopkins lacrosse legend Paul Rabil, who have campaigned for years for the sport’s return to the Olympics. Rabil has tried to elevate the game’s profile through Premier Lacrosse League, an eight-team pro organization he co-founded.
“The IOC’s decision today marks a monumental moment for our sport,” Rabil said in a statement, later adding, “The game’s return will be transformative for players and fans around the world.”
The Premier Lacrosse League will showcase the sixes format to be played at the LA 2028 games during its 2024 Championship Series featuring the league’s top four teams. Sixes was prominently featured during the 2022 World Games in Birmingham, Alabama, where Canada’s men’s and women’s teams won gold.
Local officials made a case to the IOC to get the sport approved as well. Congressman C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger, who represents Maryland’s 2nd District, wrote a letter to the committee in support of the sport’s addition. Ruppersberger, 77, played at the University of Maryland and was a member of Team USA.
“While each of us represents diverse constituencies from many different states across our country, we all have a personal connection to lacrosse,” the Democrat wrote in part. “Some of us have played the sport at its highest level, others have cheered on our family members as they picked up a stick for the first time, and all of us have seen the sport increase in popularity in our communities year after year. We are eager to see it given the attention it deserves at the world’s most prestigious international sporting competition – the Olympic Games.”
The letter was co-signed by Reps. David Trone (D-MD), Christopher Smith (R-NJ), Nick LaLota (R-NY) and Jim McGovern (D-MA).
The United States has been the most dominant country in international lacrosse, with 34 world championships dating back to 1967.