The 2023 Wildfire Lacrosse Festival took place in August in Ghana with six nations in attendance: Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Togo.
The festival is in its second year and driven by the Africa Association of Lacrosse and World Lacrosse, as part of the Lacrosse for All: Africa initiative, spurred by an annual grant from the International Olympic Committee.
The goal is to bring together as many players, coaches, officials and administrators to share best practices and grow the game as a united community.
“This was a great opportunity for a lot of newer members in Africa to have a competitive atmosphere,” said TJ Buchanan, World Lacrosse director of sport. “It takes a lot of resources to put teams in events and this was a great opportunity for these emerging lacrosse nations.”
“It was much more than competition though,” continued Buchanan. “It was about improving, developing and getting better together.”
Men’s and women’s players from each country worked together in development sessions, and started training within their own groups, but by the end, blended into a collective pool of athletes.
Coaches had similar workshops and sharing of ideas, as did officials, who received daily training and crucial on-field mentoring in game atmospheres.
“We are trying to develop a formidable cluster of National Governing Bodies in our side of the world,” said Evans Ntiamoah, an administrator for Ghana Lacrosse. “This year we have all shown massive improvement, which shows what is possible with a little experience. The point of this festival is growing the game to a certain level, and for leaders to see what goes into the game.”
“Leaders can see that growth does not end here. Now we are growing sustainably in player retention and competition management, and we need to maintain momentum after it becomes more challenging the further you climb the ladder of sport development.”
The festival provides exposure to the level of competition across Africa and demonstrates how lacrosse is there to stay. The long-term goal is to have as many countries as possible compete in an international event.
“It’s a viable sport opportunity,” said Ntiamoah. “This festival is part of our work to iron out all the hurdles and provide the next level of opportunities.”
Rufus Ntiamoah, World Lacrosse sport manager for Africa, has seen the collective investment pay off so far evidenced by the successful AAL qualifier for the 2023 World Lacrosse Men’s Championship between Uganda and Kenya.
“To have a qualifying process and have Africa part of that shows how far we’ve come,” said Rufus Ntiamoah. “We continue from this point, and will try to set higher standards, be effective in our communication to NGBs and align policy in terms of growth across the continent.”