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Does cricket have a place in the Olympics?

There's plenty to be gained, but there's the knotty problem of feasibility

Tim Wigmore

March 2, 2013

Comments: 19 | Text size: A | A

Performers play cricket at the opening ceremony of the Olympics, London, July 27, 2012
Performers at the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony. Will we see the real thing at the Games anytime soon? Don't hold your breath © Getty Images
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Kevin Pietersen's buccaneering 149 against South Africa last summer would normally have dominated sporting news. Instead the clash with 'Super Saturday' left cricket the ghost at Britain's Olympics feast.

Perhaps no longer. On Wednesday the MCC World Cricket Committee recommended that cricket apply to join the Olympics. Declaring itself "impressed with the potential boost for the game worldwide if cricket were to be included", the committee advocated rekindling a relationship that is currently limited to a solitary Great Britain-France match in 1900.

Golf provides a revealing case study: after a 112-year absence from the Olympics, it will return in 2016. An International Golf Federation spokesman says the move "will lead to governments devoting greater resources to developing golf and more support from national Olympic committees and golf federations. This will, in turn, accelerate the growth of the game."

It is a view apparently not shared by the ICC. Having already declined to apply to participate in the 2016 and 2020 Games, cricket cannot appear until 2024, which would necessitate making an application in 2017 or earlier. Commenting on the possibility, an ICC spokesman says: "The ICC board will review the advantages and disadvantages of participation and make a decision on whether or not to seek inclusion."

Would it be worth it? Olympic participation would provide copious extra exposure; when handball or curling sells out at the Olympics, it is not because they have hordes of fans. It is because it is the Olympics: people want to watch.

Sports receive significant extra funding through Olympic participation. In the Netherlands, for example, government funding for cricket was reduced last year on direct account of the sport not being included in the Olympics. As Netherlands Cricket CEO Richard Cox says, while cricket "lacks Olympic participation it has become increasingly difficult for us to promote the game and to secure the High Performance funding required domestically to develop the sport". Were cricket to feature in the Games, it would spur governments of developing cricketing nations to take a more active role in developing the sport. To Cricket Ireland CEO Warren Deutrom, Olympics inclusion is "a no-brainer financially from an associate and affiliate perspective".

Cricket has long dreamt of "conquering" America, without making any discernible progress. Darren Beazley, CEO of the United States Cricket Association, says cricket needs a catalyst to boost its image and to capture the imagination of the general public in the US. "What better vehicle than the Olympic Games? For cricket to be part of the Olympic movement would be a huge benefit for the development and profile of the sport in the US." And the same could be true of cricket in China, where cricket gained considerable attention during the country's run to the quarter-finals at the 2010 Asian Games.

Olympic participation would help the number of competitive cricketing nations increase. Especially with the reduction in both the World Cup and World Twenty20 events to ten teams each, cricket in the non-Test world needs nurturing. Inclusion in the Olympics would give "a different status to the sport" according to Cricket Scotland CEO Roddy Smith.

Free-to-air coverage of cricket is rare outside Test nations (and non-existent in England) and would be a welcome by-product of cricket returning to the Olympics.

Predictably, though, it's not as simple as that; even more predictably, money is the main reason why. Even while recommending that cricket apply to join the Olympics, the MCC World Cricket Committee conceded that it could initially lead to a shortfall in funds available to ICC members.

The crux of the problem relates to the World Twenty20. With both the Olympics and World Twenty20 taking place in even years, Olympic cricket could cannibalise the ICC's product. As Deutrom explains, "The feeling is: to have two major T20 events in a year simply wouldn't fly", which means that the World Twenty20 would either have to move to odd years or only be played every four years. So the key question - and one to which Deutrom doesn't claim to have a definitive answer - is: would revenue and all the collateral benefits of being in the Olympics actually make up for that significant financial shortfall?

The nitty gritty

  • How it could work The length of the Olympics - a little over two weeks - means that T20 is the only form of the game that could realistically be played. Four groups of four teams, with the top two in each group advancing to the quarter-finals would be a simple and easily understandable format. The MCC World Cricket Committee's proposal is for the World Twenty20 event to move to being every four years, meaning that Olympic cricket would be on a par with that tournament as the pinnacle of the format.
  • Who would play? Based on the current T20 rankings - and some educated guesswork over how good the Caribbean islands would be - the groups could look like this: A) South Africa, Pakistan, Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana; B) Great Britain, New Zealand, Ireland, Barbados; C) Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Jamaica, Netherlands; D) India, Australia, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan

Olympic cricket wouldn't quite be a replica of the World Twenty20. Most noticeably, the teams would be different - West Indies' constituent members would have to play as separate nations. Yet this could be an intriguing spectacle - the success of Trinidad & Tobago has enriched the Champions League - and could provide for an open tournament with 16 competitive nations highlighting the diversity of cricket.

The prospect of winning a gold medal would provide players with ample motivation. And, as long as a suitable gap was created in the international calendar, the standard would suffer little in comparison to the World Twenty20.

The women's game would particularly gain from inclusion. Beazley argues that Olympic participation would provide "opportunities for our talented women to rapidly progress, compete on the world stage and would help USACA to differentiate the sport from more 'mainstream American' sports, illustrating cricket as a sport where both genders can participate and excel". When women's sports have featured in multi-sport events it has contributed to greater investment and exposure. Similarly, an MCC spokesman said the committee was enthused about the potential for disability cricket if cricket featured in the Olympics.

Similar benefits - albeit on a much lower scale - would apply to cricket appearing in the Commonwealth Games. Smith stresses that Scottish cricket would gain from Commonwealth inclusion, highlighting the potential for increased funding from Scottish bodies.

There was considerable discussion over the prospect of cricket appearing in the 2018 Games in Australia, but the idea has now been scrapped. While the Commonwealth Games Federation wanted the representative sides to comprise the "best available" players (even with the tacit acceptance that this might not be the case in practice), the ICC was only willing to sanction an Under-23 competition, on the presumed grounds that "best available" teams could devalue the broadcasting rights to the World Twenty20 in the same year. The ICC's demands were not acceptable to the Commonwealth Games Federation, although there is a strong possibility that cricket will appear in the 2017 Commonwealth Youth Games.

Of course, it is Olympic participation that would make the real difference. As with any bold idea, it is easy to attack. But the MCC committee has recognised the merits of Olympic inclusion. The International Olympic Committee has also said it would welcome an application from one of the world's most-followed sports. So the possibility of cricket being in the Olympics hinges on whether the ICC can recognise the good it could do the game.

If cricket truly wants to expand beyond its cosy Commonwealth club, nothing would be more significant than Olympic participation. Providing the ICC's vision matches the MCC's, James Pattinson could yet be bowling to Joe Root in the 2024 Games.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by D.V.C. on (March 3, 2013, 22:11 GMT)

Does anyone know if it is the same deadline to get cricket into the Paralympics? It might be easier to get cricket into the Olympics if blind cricket, for instance, is already being played in the Paralympics. Wheelchair sports aren't in the Olympics proper, so I can't see a reason why Cricket couldn't be in the Parlympics first. No revenue to be lost with this, and it helps exposure, so why not?

Posted by niyasindian on (March 3, 2013, 14:08 GMT)

Yess, there is plenty to b gained, if it included in olympics

Posted by ygkd on (March 3, 2013, 6:23 GMT)

The success of the Women's WC showed why cricket needs the Olympics. It will provide the women's game with a much higher profile and it will also give the non-Test nations a much-needed boost. For too long the ICC have sat on their hands rather than face this issue.

Posted by tfjones1978 on (March 3, 2013, 5:03 GMT)

Cricket needs to be an olympic sport. The ICC should look at rescheduling its time table to cater for Olympic cricket. The thing however is that the olympics could be on in the same year as say Test World Cup, with TWC occuring later in that year. The ICC just needs to schedule things better and stop bowing down to the BCCI.

Posted by   on (March 3, 2013, 0:46 GMT)

With Olympic Cricket will be true global game.

Posted by reality_check on (March 2, 2013, 21:26 GMT)

IOC does not like to bow down to professional boards and there is no way BCCI and other cricket boards will get told by IOC what to do with cricket schedules around the Olympics. Only way this could become a possibility is if boards agree to send amateur under 19 players and the matches are short 10 overs each.

Posted by soumyas on (March 2, 2013, 20:00 GMT)

only T20 can be accommodated in olympics. but they have to stop T20 world cup every year for that... any world cup shudn't happen every year.

Posted by   on (March 2, 2013, 19:19 GMT)

Its a shame that second most popular sport in the world is deprived of entry in Olympics.While some other unpopular make it through and Just imagine...... 1.Cricket being played in Brazil and other such territories. 2.Jamaica,Barbados and T&T playing separately as countries. 3.Old horses like Sachin and Ponting trying to earn some gold for their countries.

Posted by   on (March 2, 2013, 18:46 GMT)

D-Ascendant It is very significant to sub-continent. Where more than a billion see it a a favorite sport. Usually these countries get lot of difficulty in getting medals at Olympics stage. An Olympic medal would be a great boost to these countries.

Posted by shillingsworth on (March 2, 2013, 18:27 GMT)

@Zaheer Gill - Your 'big picture' could not be more wrong and I'm glad people are missing it. The FA isn't answerable to the BOC, nor is the LTA, yet football and tennis are Olympic sports.

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