July 17, 2008

The Olympics can wait

Why pushing it onto the world's biggest sporting platform is hardly the best way to globalise cricket

Steve Waugh has been campaigning for cricket's inclusion in the Olympics based on his experience at the Commonwealth Games © Getty Images

Cricket at the Olympics: the idea certainly has a ring to it and makes for a good headline but is it really the best way to globalise the game?

First, I must confess to being a sceptic when it comes to the Olympic Games. I'm not quite in the category of the person who suggested the Olympic pool in Beijing had been deliberately built a couple of metres short (and hence the extraordinary number of world records), but a healthy sceptic nevertheless. Stories about IOC delegates accepting large payments for their votes, and charges of cheating by judges and officials tend to have that effect. And then there's the ever-present spectre of performances being enhanced by illegal substances.

However, there has been a strong call for cricket to be an Olympic sport by current players. Even those two former antagonists Steve Waugh and Sourav Ganguly have backed Adam Gilchrist's suggestion that the game make a push for inclusion in the 2020 games. So let's explore the pros and cons.

The main reason proffered is the globalisation of the game. This is a commendable aim but the question remains: "Can you create a market for cricket in places like the USA and China by playing at the Olympics, or do you first try to make the citizens of those countries more aware of the game so there is then a demand for it at Olympic level?"

Any cricket match involving either USA or China in the Olympics is unlikely to receive much television exposure in those countries, with all the competition for coverage among the major Olympic sports. The only reason for cricket to appear in the Olympic coverage in those countries would be if their team produced a major upset. Judging by the USA's lacklustre performance so far in top international cricket competitions, a nuclear-free world is more likely.

Perhaps a more realistic approach would be to expand the IPL model, with franchises in places like USA, Japan, China and Europe. That way, competitive matches are guaranteed in those countries and an opportunity is created for an increased audience for cricket on television in those regions. By taking this approach it would also accelerate the development of young homegrown players from those countries, who would eventually go on to play in a competitive national team. When that time arrives, it would be appropriate to start thinking about cricket as an Olympic sport.

In the past, when the USA had competed at the highest level, the bulk of the team was made up of older expats from cricket regions like the Caribbean or the subcontinent. They still had some skill but were way out of their depth when it came to running between wickets and fielding, two crucial aspects of the short versions of the game. Consequently, rather than the USA having a young team building toward a strong performance down the track, they were a bunch of individuals trying for one last hurrah - before the cycle repeated itself at the next tournament, four years later.

Can you create a market for cricket in places like the USA and China by playing at the Olympics, or do you first try to make the citizens of those countries more aware of the game so there is then a demand for it at Olympic level?

In proposing cricket as an Olympic sport, Waugh cited as a reason the incredibly good feeling he experienced while competing in the 1998 Commonwealth Games. That's a great personal memory but what did involvement in the Games do for cricket?

Though the 1998 Commonwealth Games involved all the major cricket-playing countries (the Caribbean was represented by individual nations), the sport was dropped from the next Games, which were held in Manchester, a major city in the country where the game was invented.

Playing at the Olympics would also create a major headache in regard to the international cricket schedule. With the proliferation of Twenty20 events in world cricket, the international itinerary is currently as cluttered as a mechanic's workshop. Rather than take on another major tournament, and the resulting qualifying event the Olympics would require, the ICC desperately needs to trim the current schedule so it resembles an orderly document rather than a parchment covered in Sanskrit scribble.

There's no doubt Twenty20 is the way to globalise the game, but that cause won't be helped if, as in all likelihood, only the eight major cricket nations qualify to play at the Olympics. Marching in an Olympic Games opening ceremony might give individual cricketers goosebumps, but as part of the evolution of the game, it wouldn't rate as a pimple on the backside.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • abhishek on August 20, 2008, 0:02 GMT

    I think that more than 1/6th world population is engaged in Cricket so it should be given its fair share. It is a no-brainer that more people play and follow cricket than sports like handball/rowing, trampoline, fencing etc. Cricket is player in at least 30-40 nations that is more than sufficient to ask for a healthy competition by including 16 teams. If we are worried about the dominance of top 8 nations, it is no different than basketball or volleyball where top 8 teams are more or less fixed. So, inclusion in Olympics should be pushed for. It will further globalse the sport as a by-product if not a direct product.

  • Lloyd on August 19, 2008, 12:34 GMT

    Cricket2012Games.com can't get us there alone, but what its trying to do is motivate the cricketing world to make the effort, rather than accept being out in the cold.No business stays strong by standing still,we have to expand and there are so many ways being in the Olympics will be good for cricket and vice versa.I'm surprised that former world power Great Britain is not more interested in putting its stamp on the Olympics by getting cricket in.India has to manifest its standing in the world, and not campaign to host the Olympics, but to get its sport cricket into the 2012 Olympics. BTW Brian Lara is playing golf, is Tiger Woods playing cricket?

  • Christoher on August 19, 2008, 0:01 GMT

    I've seen some people mention we could include this in 2012 olympics. Doesn't cricket need program status recongition, which needs to be achieved in a meeting 7 years out from the olympics. So, Cricket2012Games.com isn't gonna get us there because we only just received recognition status (along with close to 30 other sports) which took about 6 years I think?

    If other team sports can play there, why can't cricket? 15 years ago basketball was dominated by a few nations, but now there is no guarantee Eastern Europe/USA or American based teams will always take the gold...it would be kinda cool so see lesser nations finally stepping up to the test teams. It's not like playing in ICC tournaments will get them there anytime soon, maybe this will give those nations a bigger push...

  • StJohn on August 18, 2008, 18:36 GMT

    The article doesn't really give strong reasons not to have cricket in the Olympics. Yes, there may be better ways of promoting the game, but that does not exclude Olympic participation and vice-versa. Yes, the international cricket calendar is crowded, but there should be plenty of time to make some adjustments by 2020. The article is a little negative and tends to consider Olympic participation effectively as a zero-sum game: if cricket's in, why would that rule out global expansion of an IPL model? I tend to agree more with the argument that the Olympics are about athletics, etc. But with so many frankly obscure or quasi-sports participating (BMX racing?!), why should cricket exclude itself? The Olypmics is a global event and anybody marketing the game should grab that exposure, even if it may be of limited benefit. The test must be: would the Olympics be bad for cricket? If not, then it would be churlish not to try to take part.

  • Gerald on August 18, 2008, 11:35 GMT

    First and foremost the Olympics should be an athletics competition. I also think that only sports for which the Olympics would be the ultimate pinnacle should be included. It's a farce that sports such as soccer, basketball, golf, cricket (?!) should be included. T-20 is cheap knock-off, an entertaining one I'll grant you, of Test cricket. As to the article, Ian has a good point. The Olympics will not benefit cricket as much as some of you would like to think. The success of cricket is definitely not linked with inclusion in the Olympics. However, it is possible that the cricket unions from associate countries are more likely to receive government funding if their sport receives "Olympic" recognition. Will that speed up development significantly? That is highly debatable.

  • Dimithri on August 18, 2008, 3:32 GMT

    Cricket has never been seen as a global sport for the matter of fact that its played between only 10 countries or so.But suddenly all this talk to introduce cricket into a premium sporting event would definitely boost the adrenaline of the organisers of the game.I feel all this would is that it will bring fresh blood into the veins i agree with chappel to an extent that it may not be as big as we are thinking it to be, commercialising that is.but what i think is that if a sporstman is judjed by his achievments at olympics then cricketers shouid get an oppurtunity to do so.abhinav bindra won india's first individual gold medal and former olympians like milkha singh have said it as the biggest sporting day for india ,bigger than 83wc victory by kapil dev and the 75 hockey wcwin,which i totally disagree.more than for the game we should also look for the respect of the cricketers in intl arena.i might as well remind u that steve waugh's australian cricket team was voted the best intl team

  • Virender on August 18, 2008, 2:37 GMT

    I totally disagree with the comments from Ian Chappel. Why should we bother about China and US for olympics? The greats like Steve Waugh and Adam Gilchrist raised this concern so that it can help to globalize and i beleive this will definitely do. I dont understand why Ian always opposes the good cause for the cricket.

  • hayden on August 18, 2008, 2:26 GMT

    the way i see it if european handball and americas favourite past time (baseball) get a gig at the olympics then why not cricket! the game its self is already played in diverse countries with very different cultures. and im sure every cricket nation would love to get a medal on thier medal tallys. and the sport is a more even field than basketball and baseball in which the IOC might aswell present the gold to the USA before the games even start!

  • Ananya on August 18, 2008, 2:05 GMT

    Reading you, Mr. Chappel, I felt inclined to ask whether you really follow the Olympics. Look at the medal tally for the Chinese, where are their golds coming from? They are getting them from rowing, hurdles besides the regulars. Are these sports that had been there in China since Ming dynasty? No, they learnt them so that they can compete with USA in the Olympic medal table. Introduce a new sport aka a new gold into the game and the olympic superpowers i.e USA, China, Russia WILL think of sending a competitive team to get the new gold. Regarding the cricket schedule issue, can we really forecast the situation in 2020 from here? Surely sth as big as Olympic, once in four years, can be fitted in the cricket schedule when IPL can crop up from nowhere? Saying all this I agree with u to arrange IPL at places like USA, but mark my words, they need more incentive to engage in cricket and that is the possiblility of getting an Olympic gold medal.

  • Vivek on August 17, 2008, 23:08 GMT

    Here is the issue - the Olympics is about performing at the highest level in any particular sporting activity. In cricket, this means test matches. The problem is that the Olympic schedule may mean that only 20/20 games can be fitted in - even 50 over matches may be too long. In my view, an 'Olympic medal' in cricket would have no meaning whatsoever if it is obtained on the basis of 20 over games. It would not be cricket and it would certainly not be the highest and most nuanced level of the sport. So, let's keep out of the Olympics if it means producing cricket at, and for, the lowest common denominator.

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