Playing for fun ... and funds

ERIC BENDER -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:41 AM ET

While six elite international teams duke it out for the world field lacrosse championship, 42 other teams will engage in a more friendly level of play and, just as importantly, provide much of the funding for the tournament that runs from July 13 to 22 in London.

It's called the Festival and features 28 U.S. teams, seven from Canada and teams from Ireland, Scotland, Australia, Japan and Iroquois Nation.

"Basically, the idea was that a number of players who didn't qualify for their national clubs would be able to play," Festival co-ordinator Ian Baldock said, referring to the over-19 open division, which has 15 teams.

Also, there's a masters (35-45) division, a grand masters (45-50) division and a centurion (50-plus) division.

No women's competition could be mustered because only one team expressed interest.

The teams will use seven fields at the Windermere and North London complexes, with games starting at 8 a.m. each day, the last game starting at 5 p.m.

The Festival portion of the world championship was begun just four years ago when the event was held in Australia "as far as we know," Baldock said.

With the host committee smarting over the lack of federal funding for the event, even though lacrosse is officially recognized as Canada's national summer sport, the 42 Festival teams have become an important element in financing the entire tournament.

"The Festival guys pay the brunt of the financing for the games," Baldock said.

Each team pays a $1,500 entry fee. Baldock's budget for the Festival -- for field rental and supporting the administrative infrastructure -- is $25,000. The balance of the entry fees go to the overall tournament budget.

The number of Festival entries is large because of London's proximity to lacrosse communities. In Australia, there were 10 Festival teams.

"We're within eight hours (driving) from the hotbeds of lacrosse," Baldock said.

Ontario has the biggest lacrosse population in Canada, where box lacrosse is well-established, and the northeastern U.S. has widespread field lacrosse programs, particularly at the university level. As well, Baldock said hockey coaches in the U.S. are telling their players to take up lacrosse in the offseason because of the conditioning it maintains and the hand-eye co-ordination required.

The rules for Festival play are more relaxed, Baldock said. The older the age division, the less body contact is allowed.

"There's minimal contact for centurions," he said. "It's the spirit of the games division, I call it."

Teams are guaranteed a minimum of five games and the referees, drawn from the minor leagues of lacrosse, are all volunteers. Working the games, Baldock said, will add to a referee's qualifications.

For many teams from abroad, the tournament is also a big vacation.

"It's no cheap venture by any stretch of the imagination," Baldock said.

Besides registration, there's the cost of travel, food and accommodation. Players are coming with their entire families in many cases and will stay in places ranging from the Hilton to London's lower-scale motels. One team plans on camping for the duration. Team rosters can be a maximum of 28.

Bus tours are being set up to Toronto and Niagara Falls.

All Festival games are free to spectators. Only elite-level games at TD Waterhouse Stadium require a gate fee.


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