August 29, 2008

Short form, big stage

Why Twenty20 needs to make it to the Olympics if cricket is to be a truly global sport

Twenty20 is a format in which even the weaker teams can compete, and is cricket's best bet for inclusion at the Olympics © Getty Images

Being at the Olympics is probably the final step for a sport to be recognised globally. To be an Olympian is a huge attraction. If we can graduate cricket to that level, which I hope the authorities are having a look at, it would be fantastic.

Right now we have ten countries playing competitive cricket, and a lot of others making up the numbers. It is going to take a long time to get all the teams to a uniformly acceptable standard, if ever, but we need to try and bring as many of the associates to a level where any of them stands a chance of competing. We've seen Zimbabwe beat Australia in the ICC World Twenty20, so maybe that is the format for the Olympics. It's short enough and attractive enough for other countries to take up, and for the authorities to consider for inclusion in the Games.

Cricket was once an Olympic sport. For it to become one again, there has to be a structure in place for the associates that supports and accelerates the growth and the standard in those countries. The hard part is generating interest, support, finance, and ensuring there is solid infrastructure in place. We need vibrant interest from the established countries, the associates and the countries that are just starting to understand and play cricket. You need to get people interested - not just the expats around the world but natives in countries that have not yet taken up the sport. As far as the ICC is concerned, it will find its next cash cow more easily if the game goes global. A cricket explosion will happen. Not in the next five or six years, but not too far down the road either.

The IPL model is one worth exploring if cricket's appeal is to go global. Various countries could launch their own Twenty20 leagues and the established nations could boost the process by playing exhibition games at neutral venues, thereby enhancing interest. There are venues in the USA, Canada and Morocco. China is an option. We need to see if countries are interested in constructing grounds, have exhibition games there, take the game to new audiences, see if there is acceptance.

You could argue that cricket has over 100 years of history, and doesn't need any more recognition. Sure, there is a lot of passion and spectator interest, but does that make it a global sport? We need to make it like soccer, which everyone plays

It's going to be a huge challenge to have cricket at the 2020 Olympics, but it is a realistic goal for the administrators and players to aim at. Cricket was at the Commonwealth Games in 1998, and it will be part of the Asian Games. If such sporting competitions are looking at cricket as viable, then we have to justify their support. The vindication for playing a sport is when it is recognised globally. Not like the World Series in baseball, where all teams bar one are from one country.

You could argue that cricket has over 100 years of history and doesn't need any more recognition. Sure, there is a lot of passion and spectator interest, but does that make it a global sport? We need to make it like soccer, which everyone plays. Getting cricket into the Olympics is a logical step.

Basketball gradually progressed into an Olympic sport. The USA dominated Olympic basketball for some time. But at the last Olympics they were knocked out in the semi-final by Argentina. That just shows that on the Olympic stage, athletes push themselves higher. Zimbabwe beating Australia in the World Twenty20 is in a sense bigger than Argentina beating the USA in the Olympics. Established greats can never be sure of a medal because the occasion inspires everyone to give it their best.

Cricketers have a huge role to play in taking the game global. Icons like Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting, Sanath Jayasuriya, Muttiah Muralitharan, Kevin Pietersen, Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden are the ones who are followed individually, and they can make a huge impact on promoting the game. A lot of the players who are now pushing for cricket's inclusion in the Olympics won't be playing when it happens, but they can say they were part of a movement. That will be a hugely satisfying achievement.

I've spoken to Gilchrist, who has strong views on Twenty20 at the Olympics, and now I'm a believer myself. The time is now, and we need to act. The ICC, the various boards, and the players have to formalise a plan. It must be a collective effort.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Rajinda on September 1, 2008, 15:09 GMT

    I don't think 20Twenty will globalize Cricket, with or without being in Olympics. Some want Cricket to be like Soccer, a game that is played all over the world, rich or poor. But they forget that soccer is a game that just requires a ball, empty park or a ground to play, unlike Cricket which uses expensive equipment, specially prepared surfaces like turfs etc. I live in North America & I can tell you it won't work around here for a few reasons. First, if you start with 20Twenty in these parts, do not expect them to embrace the test version, which lasts 5 days. Sports here take a maximum of 3-4 hours. Currently even MLB (Baseball) which is America's pastime, don't have a fan base like NFL or NBA which are far more popular & lucrative to sponsors. NHL hockey have even a harder time in the US because they don't understand the game or cannot see the puck moving. A better choice for Cricket would be to get into Common Wealth games. After all the British invented both, didn't they?

  • venkatesh on September 1, 2008, 9:52 GMT

    If the Olympics can have beach volleyball, cycling, handball and the like which are not played worldwide, then why not cricket in the Twenty20 format? Of course, there should be some restrictions (like the 'age' factor in football). But the final will attract a huge audience (T V included) on par with, say a 100 m sprint. It will also attract global audience, countries like China, US to name a few, who will take to the game seriously.

  • Roger on September 1, 2008, 9:03 GMT

    T20 is still relatively new as a phenomena. Wait until it has been around for a bit longer and more nations are playing it before determining whether it really is something that warrants going into the Olympics. The first priority is to try and make cricket a truly international sport that extends beyond the handful of main nations that play. T20 is a good vehicle to push the further internationalization of cricket. But it will take time and we must focus all our energies on this rather than prematurely putting cricket into the Olympics - just to see one of four or so countries congratulate themselves on winning a medal.

  • sudharaka on September 1, 2008, 6:13 GMT

    There are times I wonder whether T20 as they call it is cricket at all. It of course is a boon to the commercial aspect of the game but whether T20 would attract more countries in to playing competitive cricket is really a point to ponder. I am of the opinion that T20 had done considerable damage to the modern game by commercializing it too much. The Indian team recently found it very hard to bounce back into Test cricket after a doze of IPL. The very fact that the Sri Lankan cricketers wanted to play in the IPL without honoring their international commitment is a testament to the fact that they care more about money than national pride. They should keep in mind that it was playing for the national team that landed them such lucrative contracts. Sangakkara is inadvertently (or not?) batting for his paymasters, the likes of IPL.

  • Faisal Mashood on August 30, 2008, 18:46 GMT

    I really do not understand why everyone just presumes that if cricket is taken to the Olympics it will suddenly become a global sport. Just look at some of the other sports in there like Hand-Ball, Water-Polo, Shooting etc. If we want to really and sincerly take T20 global (as this is the only cricket format that can realistically have any appeal to non-cricketing nations) we need to develope it globally, like Football. Football is so popular because almost ever nation in the world has it's own league and play decently at worst. We should try to acheive the same thing with cricket, then not only will we win global explosure, but it will also develope our own game and make it more competitive.

  • Dimuthu on August 29, 2008, 22:25 GMT

    I personally don't like professional sportsmen getting into the Olympics. In that sense, it actually works well in my mind if T20 cricket DOES get into the Olympics, where it could be played by ametuers who love the game and could do very well and represent their country at it, without necessarily being Test quality players. Imagine a kid playing on the beaches of Fiji or in a car park in Pakistan, being able to grow up and win Gold for their country by playing cricket at the Olympics. Isn't that what the Olympics are all about? Globalising cricket is different to globalising TEST cricket. I think T20 is a decent vehicle for this.

  • sandeep on August 29, 2008, 19:10 GMT

    I dont think cricket can be a global sport and neither do i think that it needs to be one.If cricket is taken to a global level then cricket itself could be ruined.Saying this i am not against minnow teams coming up in international level if there is a genuine interest in cricket in that part of the world.With so many minnows in the game we keep complaining as to why they are even playing at this level after they suffer heavy losses(most of complaining done by commentators and spectators).I am excited about bangladesh cricket.This is not by looking at their performance or results but purely by the interest shown for the game in the country.Cricket has always been a battle between nations in bilateral series.To take the game globally would mean adding more strain on an already packed calender and adding more one day cricket.Test cricket has huge history and if we try to tinker with it to allow minniows then there would be some serious harm done to cricket.Keep the game simple and pure!!

  • Rajinda on August 29, 2008, 17:58 GMT

    Nicely put digitaleye, I too believe Olympics is already full of sports that do not belong there, & Cricket needs to stay out of it. Olympics is for Athletes & not for Sportsmen who play team sports. As it is Cricket has it's own issues of protecting the game, & existing fans have a hard time deciding which format of the game is preferred. As for Sanga's aberration from the usual columns... while I stand on my opinion that he should stop writing & concentrate on his game, I rather see him focusing on a topic like this, than an on going series he is involved in. First it's unfair for the other players in the series who do not have a platform like him, to give their own opinion. Next, as I previously wrote, the content will be biased & could dangerously sound like giving excuses for the team & his performance. It's not what I expect from a classy player like Sanga. If he must write, he could comment on another ongoing series that he's not involved, which will be an unbiased opinion.

  • Asoka on August 29, 2008, 16:55 GMT

    LGD3 says that there is nothing 'Olympian' about Twenty/20. I wonder what he then thinks of a 'sport' like beach volleyball, showed ad nauseam here in Canada during the Games, which appears to be an attempt by the IOC to snare male viewers looking for cleavage and sweet cheeks.

  • Asoka on August 29, 2008, 16:48 GMT

    The Beijing Olympics were a stupendous spectacle but it was frustrating to watch 'sports' such as beach volleyball, BMX cycling (huh?), and off-road cycling hogging the TV channels while sports such as cricket and netball were excluded. A determined effort needs to be made by the governments of all first-line cricket playing nations to get Twenty/20 into the Olympics. Currently, although China kicked US butt in the medal standings, the Games are dominated by sports that Americans like to watch. But the growth area in sports is in the developing world and, the Olympics being a lot about money, India's 1 billion + spectators cannot be ignored, a fact that the IOC will no doubt clue into.

    Another thing, do not forget the need to promote women's cricket. Cricket will NOT get into the Olympics as a male sport; the women's form has to be robust also.

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