World Cup concept causes contention

Backers like exposure

detractors fear tarnish

July 16, 1999|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

For many in lacrosse, it's all about whether you see the World Cup of Lacrosse half-full or half-empty.

Pick your perspective. Will the best-of-three series between the United States and Canada be remembered as the most widely televised event in the sport's history, or one of the most controversial?

The series' second game will be played at 8 tonight at Homewood Field (HTS), with the U.S. team needing one victory to clinch the World Cup title.

This inaugural World Cup is the creation of the Gazelle Group, a Princeton (N.J.) sports-marketing firm that handled the sponsorship, television production and distribution for last summer's World Games.

Despite much-needed television exposure, the competition has caused several rifts in US Lacrosse, the sport's national governing body, which stresses its separation from the World Cup.

Still, both groups have continued talks and said an agreement may be reached for next year's World Cup.

"I applaud [Gazelle Group president] Rick Giles and hope the event is successful," said Steve Stenersen, US Lacrosse's executive director.

"We, as a sport, have to learn how to maximize our opportunities for exposure. This year, there were a couple of issues [with the World Cup] that stuck in the craws of our international committee and our post-collegiate club committee. But there were positive issues, too, that were equally as important."

International committee members said an annual World Cup may tarnish the prestige of the International Lacrosse Federation World Championship, which has been contested every four years since 1967 and rotates from country to country.

But Giles contends that American lacrosse fans should not have to wait 12 to 16 years to attend another international event.

"It's definitely going to happen next year," he said, adding that more countries, the original idea, could be included. "It might be a slightly different format, and we'll consider all possibilities. We're all still committed to this."

Also, some club lacrosse officials say they never were asked to be involved in the team selection process. But Giles called that a misconception, citing a letter in January that asked club-league officials to participate.

"We have tried to be inclusive," said Giles of the event that will be televised in 115 million homes in 46 countries. "There are some vocal people there that have held the sport back for many years. I talked with [U.S. World Cup coach] Bob Shillinglaw, and he's told me about how so many people complain about the lack of lacrosse on television. Well, you can't just sit around hoping for the phone to ring."

The World Cup has gained the support from the Canadian lacrosse association but has taken some flak from some former U.S. national team players, who have nicknamed the event "pay-for-view lacrosse." That refers to the event's association with DirecTV and DISH Network satellite services and new rules to generate more action.

In April, the Gazelle Group announced that 17 players from last summer's 26-member U.S. national team would participate. But injuries, other commitments, and uninterest dropped the number to 13 a month later and just eight by Wednesday's first game.

Canada's team includes 14 of last year's 26 players.

The young U.S. World Cup team did not disappoint, though, edging Canada, 16-15, in front of a two-thirds empty Homewood Field. Giles said the crowd of 3,077 wasn't disappointing and that sales for tonight's game are 50 percent better than that number.

Pub Date: 7/16/99

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