An American Indian lacrosse team whose Iroquois-issued passports have been at the heart of an international dispute will default on the first game of the sport's world championship on Thursday.
But the Iroquois Nationals are holding out hope they'll be allowed into England to compete in a second game set for Saturday.
"We have a lot of high-level calls out for help," team Executive Director Percy Abrams said Thursday. The team was at a New York City hotel hours before the start of what was to be the first game of the tournament in Manchester, England--a match between the Iroquois and England.
The British government said Wednesday the team wouldn't be allowed to travel to England to play the sport the Iroquois helped invent unless members accept U.S. or Canadian passports. The team continued pressing its case on Thursday, but British officials offered no new comment.
The 23 members are all eligible for those passports but say accepting them would be a strike against their identity. The British government's decision was announced hours after the U.S. cleared the team for travel on a one-time waiver at the behest of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who as New York senator once represented some Iroquois lands.
U.S. authorities initially had refused to accept the passports issued by the Iroquois Confederacy because the documents lack security features now required for border crossings in the wake of post-Sept. 11 crackdowns on document fraud and illegal immigration.
The State Department said Thursday it tried, but failed, to persuade the British government to allow the team to travel. Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said U.S. officials made it clear that the team would be allowed to re-enter the U.S. when their visit to England was completed. Despite those assurances, the British government decided to disallow entry for the team members, Crowley said.
"We did our best from our point of view to satisfy the initial concerns that the U.K. had,'' he said. Crowley described the decision as unsurprising, and he said both governments share the view that the Iroquois ultimately must have internationally recognized travel documents. Abrams said team organizers planned to meet Thursday to decide whether the team would continue staying in New York City.
Team leaders say they've spent tens of thousands of dollars on airline change fees and unexpected hotel and food costs as the team and its support staff of more than 20 people have awaited word. Film director James Cameron has donated $50,000 to help them defray those costs, they say.
The Iroquois team is ranked No. 4 in the world by the Federation of International Lacrosse and represents the Haudenosaunee -- an Iroquois Confederacy of the Oneida, Seneca, Mohawk, Tuscarora, Cayuga and Onondaga nations, whose land stretches from upstate New York into Ontario, Canada.