Teams from around the world are set to descend on Israel, sticks in hand, to take part in the largest ever World Lacrosse Championship this week.
The 10-day men’s tourney is set to kick into action Wednesday with an opening game between Hong Kong and Luxembourg, but organizers hoping to spread the lacrosse gospel got things started Monday with a clinic for kids in Jerusalem Monday to introduce them to the sport,
With 46 teams from six continents participating, it will be the largest world lacrosse tournament in history, said David Lasday, chief operating officer of the Israel Lacrosse Association.
The championship, hosted at the Wingate Institute and Netanya stadium, is also making history for being the first time it is being hosted by a country where English is not the native language, Lasday said.
Held every four years, the tournament normally rotates between the US, Canada, Australia, and England.
Israel is hosting the championship this year because of its relatively close proximity to newer teams joining the tournament as well as the fast growth of lacrosse in Israel. Despite being relatively unknown in Israel until recently, the national team is ranked number seven in the world, said Lasday.
New York lacrosse enthusiast Scott Neiss came to the country in 2010 and started laying the groundwork for a professional team.
Israel competed for the first time in the 2014 tourney in England, winning its group, but being defeated in the quarterfinals.
While most players who helped get Neiss’s Israel Lacrosse Association off the ground came from American backgrounds, many of those on the eight local teams and five national teams that have since been created are Israel-natives who have picked up the sport.
“When we go into schools with national players, the kids flock, especially when they hear it is a combination of basketball and soccer,” Lasday said. “The goal of the championship is to foster the growth of the sport.”
Lidor Ashtamker, an 18-year-old player from Ramle who was at Tuesday’s clinic, has been playing for four years, ever since his school was visited by Israeli national players.
“When I picked up the stick for the first time, I immediately felt connected and knew it was what I wanted to do,” he said.