By Nachiket Deuskar
The possibility of Cricket featuring at the Summer Olympic Games has surfaced yet again. While such rumours have done the rounds before, this time it is coming from the top authority.
At an event in London last week, Dave Richardson, CEO of the International Cricket Council (ICC) said, “We need to make a decision by July so we can make an application in time for September, when, as I understand it, the IOC will consider new sports for 2024”.
But what makes this remark special is that for the first time, most of the associations are in favour of it.
According to the plan, all teams will compete in a global qualifying structure for limited slots. This will include the ‘full-member’ nations who generally get automatic qualification for ICC events. Six to eight teams from across the world will then play the final tournament at the 2024 Summer Olympic Games. Also, it is generally accepted that twenty20 is the most feasible format to feature at the Olympics.
Los Angeles, USA and Paris, France are the two cities currently battling to host the games. Both, USA and France are relatively new territories for cricket.
However, it may not be as easy as it may sound. Rugby 7s made it to the Olympics only in 2016 when Golf also made a return after 112 years. Cricket will be competing with Squash, Softball-Baseball, Karate, Roller Sports, Sports Climbing, Wakeboarding and Wushu to be played at the Olympics. It must be noted that many of these sports have enjoyed unanimous backing of their governing bodies for a long time.
In the Olympic Games, Great Britain sends a combined team comprising of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, Wales and three dependencies- Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey. Hence, the unlike the Cricket World Cup or the Commonwealth Games, we will not see Team England, but Great Britain.
On the contrary, West Indies is not a country. It is a group of countries that have a single team for cricket. For example, Usain Bolt represents Jamaica in athletics, not West Indies. In the Olympics, all of these countries that make up the West Indies compete separately. This will significantly weaken their chances of qualifying.
The 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur remains the only occasion where cricket was played at the games. England had refused to send their team as the dates of the games were clashing with the English county season. This will be a concern for the Olympics again. The summer Olympic games happen in the summer of the northern hemisphere (usually in July or August) which is also the English cricketing season.
It is a dilemma for the English Cricket Board to let go of significant revenue to feature in the Olympics which will not yield them much financially.
Another problem is that of sponsorship. When Sahara was the sponsor of the Indian cricket team, their logo would appear on the front of the jersey. However, when Indian played an ICC event such as the world cup, the logo would be relegated to the sleeves as Sahara was not an official ICC partner like Emirates. The Olympics like most major sporting events is very strict of ‘ambush marketing’ by non-partner brands. The attire of the Brazilian football team for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games did not carry any sponsor logo except for the manufacturer (Nike).
Would Cricket associations like the BCCI, Cricket Australia and English Cricket Board be able to negotiate such deals where the sponsors are left out for an event like the Olympics? Also, in that case, will not having sponsors impact smaller teams such as Zimbabwe and West Indies which are already struggling financially?
The International Olympic Committee has also made it clear to the International Cricket Council that they want full strength teams to participate.
During both, the 2010 and the 2014 Asian Games in Guangzhou, China and Incheon, South Korea, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka fielded under-strength teams while India did not participate. Pakistan also sent an under-strength team in 2010. Notably, China and Maldives participated in 2010 and Kuwait and South Korea joined them in 2014.
The Olympic Council of Asia is considering omitting Cricket and few other sports from the 2018 Asian Games to be held in Jakarta and Palembang, Indonesia possibly because of the lack of commitment from the playing nations as well as expensive infrastructure.
In spite of cricket being the most followed sport in India, the organizing committee of the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games refused to include cricket fearing dull response from the national associations including the BCCI.
The International Cricket Council has sat on this idea for years. While an exhibition match was played between Great Britain and France at the 1900 Paris Olympics, Cricket was “recognised officially” by the International Olympic Committee only in 2007.
The process of taking cricket to the summer Olympic Games should have started much earlier. Yet, it is better late than never. Both, the ICC as well as the national cricket associations have to be blamed for this delay. Very little has been done to increase the sport’s footprint. The reduction of the number of teams playing the 2019 Cricket World Cup is one such regressive step.
In the long term, the dividends of having Cricket at the Olympics are unmatched. This will lead to development of quality cricketing facilities built in non-traditional locations such as Guangzhou, China and Incheon, South Korea and importantly, more countries getting exposure to the sport.
Featured image: Cricket as part of the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony.
(Image courtesy: Cricket Australia)