There were cheers and hollers aboard the Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team bus as the players geared up for a very different encounter from what they had planned for Day 1 of the World Lacrosse Championships in England.
Instead, with the Statue of Liberty in the background, team members got into uniform Thursday and filed out of the bus to pose for a gaggle of journalists and repeat their case for a few TV cameras: They should be allowed into England for the games using their Iroquois-issued passports. Why would the British demand they use U.S. and Canadian passports when they don't consider themselves citizens of those nations?
On Friday, they awaited word of whether they would be granted permission to travel to Manchester, England, in time to play their second tournament game, scheduled for Saturday afternoon. The team defaulted on its first game, against England, when it didn't arrive in time on Thursday.
Negotiators for the team have been pursuing diplomatic channels, and on Thursday team chairman Oren Lyons sounded a hopeful note.
"There is movement in our discussions with the U.K.," the Onondaga Nation chief said in a statement. "We don't know if we can resolve the issues in time for us to make our next game."
But a spokesman for Britain's Home Office who spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with ministry rules said later in the day in London that its stance had not changed and that a change was highly unlikely overnight.
For the team's 23 players, it was another day of spending more time on a bus rather than on the field playing the sport the Iroquois helped invent as much as 1,000 years ago.
As their bus pulled up to the park housing the ferry boarding point for visitors headed to the Statue of Liberty, one player joked he'd found the easiest way to circumvent all the team's difficulties: "We're taking the ferry all the way, boys."
Once the team was out among the tourists, a few passers-by stopped to cheer the players, whose faces have been everywhere except England in the last few days as the dispute over their passports became an international issue.
"They ought to let them go," said Jon Shebar, an avid lacrosse fan. What's at stake, he said, is "the dignity of the people and to be recognized as a nation."
Others stepped in to offer their support as well. A lacrosse club on Long Island invited the team for a barbecue and pickup game. The team, ranked No. 4 in the world by the Federation of International Lacrosse, planned to make use of its field for practice Thursday evening.
And film director James Cameron donated $50,000 to help the players cover the ballooning costs of their stay in New York — already extended four days beyond their original flight.
On Sunday, U.S. authorities refused to accept the passports issued by the Iroquois Confederacy because they lack security features required for border crossings amid post-Sept. 11, 2001, crackdowns on document fraud and illegal immigration.
After days of negotiation, the U.S. cleared the team Wednesday 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.
But hours later, the British government said the team wouldn't be allowed in without U.S. or Canadian passports.
The Department of State said Thursday it had 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 its 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.
Team lawyer Tonya Gonnella Frichner said the Iroquois have almost completed a transition to higher-security passports. The process has cost the six-nation confederacy more than $1.5 million, she said.
For the team, the frustrations of the week and any disappointments still to come will serve a purpose, player Jeremy Thompson said.
"We kind of look down seven generations," he said, repeating a phrase he has heard often from his parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents. "Whatever precedent we set here is going to help generations down the road."
"For my people, it's an ongoing battle for us," he said. "It's still there. It's always going to be there."