Let's talk about cricket at the Olympics, once again!
The International Cricket Council (ICC), on Tuesday, confirmed that they will bid for cricket's inclusion in the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics. The ICC has been making the case for cricket's inclusion for a while and the bid will also have the backing from the world's richest board BCCI. The ICC has also formed an Olympic Working Group which will work on making the game part of the Olympics starting from 2028. The last time cricket was a part of the Olympics was in 1900. Here are a couple of pros and cons if cricket does become a part of the Games going forward.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR BOTH PARTIES
The Olympics and cricket need new markets and audiences if they want to keep growing. Cricket is followed by more than a billion people but that is largely because of the game's popularity in the South Asian countries - India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Afghanistan. Then there are countries like England, Australia, South Africa, West Indies, and New Zealand but there's not much beyond them. And, if cricket does feature in the Olympics, it will only globalise the sport and will not limit it to the hegemony of the Commonwealth nations. In a similar way, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) too will get an opportunity to expand in the Asian subcontinent.
"We have more than a billion fans globally and almost 90 percent of them want to see cricket at the Olympics. Clearly, cricket has a strong and passionate fanbase, particularly in South Asia where 92% of our fans come from, whilst there are also 30 million cricket fans in the USA. The opportunity for those fans to see their heroes competing for an Olympic medal is tantalising," said ICC chair Greg Barclay.
BOON FOR ASSOCIATE NATIONS
"As far as the Olympics are concerned, I honestly think this would be a massive game-changer for most of the Associate countries, not just Brazil. It is obvious that most won’t ever get to play in the Olympics but being registered and recognised by your Olympic committee brings so many more benefits. In the case of Brazil, we would receive funding from the government’s Olympic Committee as well as opening up new sponsorships opportunities and government grants that due to not being an Olympic sport can’t be applied for," Matt Featherstone, the development officer for Cricket Brasil, told The Telegraph (UK).
There are only going to be eight to ten nations participating in the Olympics considering there is a limit on the number of athletes at the Games. However, as Featherstone mentioned, many associate nations will receive funding because they will be registered and recognised by their respective Olympic committees. In a similar way, it will also help in the growth of women's cricket across the globe.
THERE ARE A FEW MORE OPTIONS NOW
The five-day and 50-over formats were never in the equation. T20 seems like the only viable option for now considering the IOC only want to pick a format that already has a World Championship at the international level. However, if they do decide to explore other formats, T10 and the Hundred could also come into play. A T10 game hardly takes around 90-100 minutes to get over, but this format will only be approved if it's recognised at a global level.
"The one thing that T10 offers above the three formats that makes it so appealing to Olympic games or Commonwealth games is the fact that you can play a whole tournament in the space of 10 days. To have a tournament in such a short space of time maximises the opportunity and the exposure that it will have for the sport," said England white-ball skipper Eoin Morgan.
TOO MUCH CRICKET?
Raising the stakes is mandatory for any global sport. It keeps the athletes motivated, gives the sports’ governing bodies to market it better which in turn gives the fans something to watch out for. The ICC, aided by its richest member nations, has mastered this game over the past few decades. The zeitgeist, once surrounding the ODI World Cup once every four years and the Ashes series every two years, is now maintained throughout the year. The intoxicating effect of the Indian Premier League (IPL) and its variants taking place every year has already increased the sport’s reach in all continents. Add to it the layer of biennial T20 World Cup along with the icing of the World Test Championship (WTC) with some sprinkling of bilateral series, the effect is manifold.
While the upper echelon pats itself on the back after bringing the men’s cricket calendar to its saturation point, the women’s cricket still waits for its due. The reintroduction of the sport at the Commonwealth Games next year through the women’s game might look like a token offering compared to the financial downpour that comes from the men’s side. Following this, ICC’s latest bid to introduce cricket at the 2028 Los Angeles Games comes as no surprise. While it’s not yet clear if it's going to be both the men’s and women’s categories or just one of them, there’s the recurring question. How much cricket is too much cricket?
If viewership is concerned, the large belt of Asia’s South Eastern countries, where cricket trumps everything, are likely to bring in loyal viewership. But the volumes coming in for a multi-discipline event such as the Olympics might not turn out to be as expected. For example, the Olympics broadcast for football in the UK, the most popular sport with its cash-rich club competitions round the year and major international tournaments every two years, is not in the top-40 most-viewed Olympic sports this year.
The major reason was the absence of stars. Countries are forced to send their B-team or sometimes C-team to these events because players at the highest level made themselves unavailable after a long season of four major club tournaments and the European Championship. The Indian men’s team has created a second-string team full of quality against Sri Lanka, while England had also flexed its strength in reserves against Pakistan, but how many top cricketing nations can boast of such luxury in both the men’s and women’s?
Former England skipper David Gower said: "I am not convinced! Cricket if it comes to the Olympics, it will be a very short form version. It might even be the shortest possible version. My personal view is to forget it. We talked about how we can't fit everything during the English summer and now imagine going to Tokyo right now. The schedule is already crowded and then we have got IPL, T20 World Cup, and Ashes coming up. And, if you just want to play a 10-over game, what's the point?"
If the rising concerns surrounding players’ mental health are to be heeded, the presence of top-level cricketers at the Olympics is wishful thinking. If the ICC and its member nations are aiming for the Olympic dream, there’s nothing more important currently than player welfare.