Lacrosse Teams Face Off in St. Petersburg
Published: May 28, 2014 (Issue # 1813)
As the world prepares for this summer’s FIFA World Cup, two teams in Russia are gearing up for their own sporting showcase. The St. Petersburg White Knights and the Moscow Rebels, Russia’s only two lacrosse teams, will play each other in the Capital’s Cup in St. Petersburg on Saturday to determine the champion of Russia.
Although largely unknown in Russia, lacrosse has rapidly grown in popularity in the United States, where it is considered the country’s oldest sport, and is gaining popularity around the world.
The game dates back to the 17th century, preceding American sports such as baseball and football by more than 200 years. Known as the “little brother of war” in some tribes, the sport earned the moniker of “lacrosse” from French settlers who thought that the sticks used looked similar to the crosses bishops carried.
As the game modernized, the rules and equipment followed suit. Instead of hundreds of people playing on a field miles long, the current rules allow for only ten men on the field for each team at a time. When played, it resembles a combination of hockey and football, both European and American, and is often called “the fastest game on two feet.”
This weekend’s showdown in St. Petersburg between the two clubs is also a preparation for the Moscow club’s players who will be traveling to Denver, Colorado, to play for the Russian national team in its first ever appearance at the Lacrosse World Championships this summer. Russia is in a group with Argentina, New Zealand and Wales, and they are scheduled to play each team once.
The fact that there is even going to be a team in Denver is largely thanks to the efforts of David Diamonon, the founder of the Moscow club, who was inspired to try and bring the sport to Russia after watching highlights of the 2006 World Championships.
However, various logistical problems, as well as some cultural differences, have hindered the development of the game in Russia. “The biggest challenges are administrative,” Diamonon said. “Unlike in the U.S., where grass fields are more or less in abundance, Russia sorely lacks easily accessible playing fields.”
“Lack of equipment is also an obstacle,” he said. “If someone wants to play, and even shows up but can’t easily get their own gear, it’s easy for them to lose interest while they’re waiting for an order.”
Gene Arkhipov, head coach of the Moscow club, echoed Diamonon in bemoaning the lack of suitable infrastructure but also noted that there isn’t any kind of system to develop young players in Russia.
“In the states, each school has a team and people can play for free anywhere,” Arkhipov said. “There are leagues and by playing sports, people can achieve something or get a free education.”
Despite such obstacles, Diamonon and Arkhipov are sure that given time, the sport will take off in Russia. “Challenges notwithstanding, Russia is a country brimming with sports enthusiasts who are limited in their options,” Diamonon said. “Not everyone can be a star in soccer or hockey — lacrosse provides a dynamic and worthy alternative to talented athletes who are looking for outlets outside of the ‘Big Two’.”
“Russia has incredible lacrosse potential,” Arkhipov added. “If we look at our youth programs in Moscow, and how they grow and how good the kids play and how natural it comes to them, the future looks bright.”
This weekend’s matchup between the two teams is at 1 p.m. in Tavrichesky Garden between Chernishevskaya metro station and Smolny Institute.