Time cricket embraced the Olympics
Another glorious edition of the Olympics has headed off into the sunset. It was a couple of weeks that showcased the best athletes competing for the ultimate glory, an event that exhibited disappointment, defeat, joy, pride, victory and had the participation of 205 nations. A rich history, a massive platform, unparalleled plaudits and arguably the biggest show sports can offer, make the Olympic Games stand out. So it would be only natural if ardent cricket fans feel left out every time this marquee sports event rolls around.
Unlike motorsports, cricket is recognised as a sport by the International Olympic Committee. Though cricket wasn't an outright success in multi-sport models previously, times have changed and today cricket has its Twenty20 avatar on offer for such events. The ICC has 106 member countries, spanning continents and covering most of the globe. So what is keeping the ICC and its member bodies from applying for the Summer Olympics?
About a decade ago this wouldn't have been a valid question, with issues of time, number of participants, logistics and the questions of maintenance of pitches over the duration of the event prevalent. But today most of these issues have an answer in T20 cricket.
At London 2012, football (men) had 16 teams and hockey (men) saw 12 teams compete for gold. The World T20 has 12 teams in the fray and a couple of them emerge from the competitions for Associate and Affiliate members. Through the World Cricket League (the ICC's endeavour to increase global participation) the game is gradually spreading. Yes, the cricket is not competitive at all its levels, but things can change if they are allowed to.
Another argument that goes into preventing cricket from aligning with the Games is that the Olympics stand as the summit of competition across most of its disciplines. Cricket has a 50-overs and a T20 World Cup, with a Test championship in the pipeline. Draw parallels to other sports at the Olympics: football - surely the Olympics isn't the biggest show the sport has to offer; tennis - Federer would probably cherish his Wimbledon trophy more than he would rue the gold medal … you could add a few other sports to this list as well. For cricket, though, the Olympics could serve as the pinnacle for T20 cricket, with the World T20 being scrapped.
In terms of scheduling difficulties, instead of having windows in the Future Tours Programme for the Champions League T20, having one for the Olympics could serve a better purpose. England, West Indies, Sri Lanka run their home seasons during the period when the Summer Olympics is held; surely two weeks off those seasons once in four years shouldn't really be a big problem?
Also, Olympics participation will definitely extend the sport's reach. Any general sports enthusiast, in say India or Sri Lanka, would tell you that he likes to watch sporting disciplines at the Olympics that he is unfamiliar with. The same could be true of cricket and those folks who have not come in contact with it before.
Cricket could face several stumbling blocks during its initial phase at the Olympics - building a substantial fan following, ensuring a high level of competiveness at all stages, the threat of undercooked pitches (the 2020 Olympics will be held at Istanbul, Madrid or Tokyo). But in the long run, it could be the fillip that propels cricket towards the status of a truly global sport, which the ICC seems to be striving so hard to achieve.