June 27, 2014

A case for Olympic status and wooing China

England and India may not be interested in making cricket truly global, but several other countries would vastly benefit from participating in the Olympics

A game associated with the British Empire might not seem like an easy fit in China. But the three-month tours of New Zealand recently undertaken by men's and women's sides from Shandong Province, at the cost of US$200,000 to the local government, suggest that is changing. So does the regular presence of national team fixtures on CCTV1, China's leading television station. Here, and in other unlikely outposts, the sport's global pretensions are increasingly hard to mock.

The tale of rugby offers a snapshot of what can be gained by inclusion in the Olympic Games. After a 96-year wait it will return, in the form of rugby sevens, to the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. The International Rugby Board attribute inclusion in the Olympics to "an uplift in participation and Member Unions in countries as diverse as Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, Brazil and Russia" and "bringing significant additional funding to the game".

The cricketing fraternity is taking note. A survey conducted in 2008 found that 90% of the ICC's members supported the notion of including cricket in the Olympic Games. The MCC World Cricket Committee has also come out in favour of taking up the International Olympic Committee's encouragement to apply for inclusion in the 2024 Olympics, declaring itself "impressed with the potential boost for the game worldwide if cricket were to be included" last year.

China is one of those who could benefit. "We fully support cricket entering the Olympics," says Terry Zhang of the Chinese Cricket Association. "The shortcut for cricket to develop in China is to be in the Olympics."

There has been long been fantastical talk of cricket conquering China, but there appears no danger of it doing so anytime soon. "There is very little awareness in China and very little support from central government," Zhang admits. China remains "almost fully dependent on ICC and ACC funding for cricket development". And the sums on which cricket in China must subsist amount to a pittance: $30,000 a year from the ICC; and around $200,000 a year from the Asian Cricket Council.

Olympic status offers the tantalising prospect of that changing - and how. Based on the experience of rugby, Zhang believes that cricket would receive an injection of "millions of dollars" in China if it were included in the Olympics: perhaps as much as $20 million a year in total from central and local government.

Nothing would focus Chinese minds on the game like the prospect, however remote, of an Olympic medal in the sport: this resonates in a way that the chance of qualifying for a World Cup or World T20 never could.

"There are so many similarities between rugby and cricket in China," Zhang says. He looks at the "publicity and media exposure" that rugby is gaining, despite the sport's lack of history in the country, and believes "the same could happen for cricket" if it gained Olympic status. Without it, it is hard to see how cricket could make it big in China. "They only go for Olympic sports," Animul Islam, the former Bangladesh captain who is now coaching in China, said earlier this year.

One CEO of a lowly Affiliate member, which will receive a total of $10,000 from the ICC in 2014, believes that Olympic status would lead to an influx of $1 million a year from the national government

But the benefits of Olympic inclusion would extend far beyond China. As a report presented to the ICC executive board last year noted, the "positive impact may even stretch to some of the Full Members", noting a Cricket Australia study suggesting Olympic status "would increase cricket's 'share of voice' in the sports media".

Fears that a T20 tournament in the Olympics would reduce the cricketing and commercial value of the World T20 should also be discounted. The report notes: "The evidence from other sports seems to be that a balanced schedule such as this can lead to the Olympic Games helping to enhance the value of world championship events rather than cannibalising the federation's own competitions."

The financial case for inclusion is formidable, with the report identifying the benefits, including funding from the IOC of $15-20 million every Olympic Games; a "conservative projection" of Olympic Solidarity funding totalling $4-6 million per year; and increased "general profile of cricket in Associate and Affiliate member countries". One CEO of a lowly Affiliate member, which will receive a total of $10,000 from the ICC in 2014, believes that Olympic status would lead to an influx of $1 million a year from the national government.

And the tantalising prospect of cricket taking hold in the United States may cease to be a fantasy. Unusually, the US does not provide funding for Olympic sports, but Olympic status would provide a boon for cricket in America. "Having an Olympic team would greatly enhance not only our ability to fund-raise and to find sponsors, but also the sport's profile among Americans not yet familiar with it," Jamie Harrison, the chief executive officer of the American Cricket Federation, says.

For a sport that is the world's second-most popular, cricket is too often comfortable retreating into insularity. Olympic status would change that, providing ample exposure and thrusting cricket onto TV screens throughout the world. Even fans in England would enjoy the novelty of seeing the international side (albeit under the guise of Great Britain) on free-to-air TV: a modest step towards weaning the game away from its dependence upon those who learned their cricket abroad and at private schools.

And the benefits would extend far beyond the men's game. "Cricket's inclusion in the Olympic Games would serve to give support to the women's game, which is desperately in need of help right now," Harrison says. The female competition would be played out parallel to the men's one at the Olympics. "It would also open the door for the disabled to participate in the Paralympic Games, the importance of which I think cannot be overstated for these athletes."

If it sounds too good to be true, that's because it is. Although Olympic status is championed by virtually all the countries that play cricket, the notion of equality between members has long been anathema to the ICC - more so than ever in the aftermath of the coup by the "Big Three". Unsurprisingly, it is England and India who are leading the opposition to cricket being included in the Olympics.

Superficially, the ECB's rationale is simple. A report presented to the ICC executive board last year argued that the Olympics could cost the ECB $160 million.

This claim collapses under basic scrutiny. The suggestion that a T20 tournament in the Olympics would jeopardise an entire four-Test series, on which the figure of $160 million is based, is incredible. Last year, the ECB hosted the Champions Trophy while still finding enough room for a full Test and ODI schedule; at 18 days, the Champions Trophy lasted about a week longer than a cricket event at the Olympics would. Once the point is accepted, the "opportunity cost" to the ECB - which includes "$30 million of reduced income in other years due to the need to schedule additional matches outside London to help sustain other venues" - collapses.

Olympic status would transform not just the amount of money that Associate and Affiliate nations have but also who provided it. This is not a moot point: the ICC's handout of $30,000 a year to Affiliate members would seem an irrelevance set against the influx of government funding and sponsorship that the Olympics could provide.

The upshot would be that the financial dependence of Affiliates and Associates on England and India would be weakened. They might be rather less acquiescent to their demands in the future, and be less meek at the spectacle of N Srinivasan - a man suspended from the BCCI by the Supreme Court of India on corruption charges - being installed as chairman of the ICC. The overwhelming financial dominance of India would also recede if cricket grew in America, China and elsewhere. Though that would mean more money for everyone in the long run, the Big Three would not take kindly to having their control of the running of the game reduced.

At the ongoing ICC annual conference, Giles Clarke and Srinivasan have made efforts to woo the Associates and Affiliates, convincing them of their altruistic ambitions for growing the sport throughout the world. But their unyielding opposition to cricket appearing in the Olympics suggests men who prioritise self-interest over expanding the sport and the advancement of women's and disability cricket.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Sayantan on June 27, 2014, 16:56 GMT

    The expansion of Cricket, that ICC is trying for decades and failing at miserably, can get a huge boost through the inclusion of Olympic. This should be the biggest motive to go for it. There are sports as Fencing, Weightlifting, Judo, which no one follows through the year, but they are part of each Olympic. Being a much more interesting game than these, I don't see why Cricket can't be part the Olympic and expand into new territory. Olympic is an worldwide movement, and everyone wants to be part of it. So it's time to decide for Cricket, whether to go ahead along with the rest of the world and attract new followers from the remaining 190 countries, or to give lousy excuses and stay isolated into the 10 countries like it is for over a century.

  • Sayantan on June 27, 2014, 16:38 GMT

    India_boy, I have few points against all of what you said -

    1. Time span - I don't even know if it's an issue. Is it a matter of completing the event in time you are worried about ? Multiple matches would take place in a day, so I don't know what can be a possible issue in completing in 16 days. 2. Rio is not hosting cricket, it's being persuaded for 2020 olympic. The idea is to create interest in cricket through Olympic, that's the whole idea of this article, it says how Rugby is getting attention to 1.4 billion Chinese now. Getting into Olympic is being members of an Ellite club, that's what Cricket should try. 3. Have you seen contestants of Shooting or Archery and how much they fit into Olympics motto ? Mentioning Olympic motto is one of the lamest way to oppose Cricket's inclusion into Olympics. In fact all other sports just die to get a share of the Olympic Dream, but Cricket is the only game who wants to stay put in it's 140 years of immobility and confined to 10 nation !

  • Dummy4 on June 27, 2014, 15:57 GMT

    I don't see why game duration is brought up as an issue, assuming you're sticking to T20s. Duration would only be a problem if you have to play multiple matches on the same day and that wouldn't be the case.

  • Muthuvel on June 27, 2014, 15:34 GMT

    Try in ourown commonwealth games first and then see if it works approach asian games and then to olympics.

  • Dummy4 on June 27, 2014, 15:19 GMT

    180 minutes is enough time if the format is a Knockout with 16 teams participating. It will provide the opportunity for low ranked teams to play against the higher ranked teams and provide funding for many other countries where cricket is not so popular.

  • Dummy4 on June 27, 2014, 12:50 GMT

    If the ICC will have us, let's do it!

  • Anup on June 27, 2014, 12:01 GMT

    The duration of the shortest format of cricket i.e. 20-20 is 180 minutes which is double that of a football match (90 minutes) and triple that of a hockey match (60 minutes). Hence it would be impractical to play cricket at the Olympics even in the 20-20 format, leave alone the 50-50 format or 5 day format. If cricket is to be played at the Olympics where we are supposed to get instant results it would require a 5-5 format or at the most a 10-10 format which would never be a fair contest between bat and ball. Moreover it would subject the international cricketers unnecessarily to the draconian WADA clauses. Hence it is better to keep cricket out of the Olympics a sit has been for the last 130 odd years. Cricket has its own World Cup for both 50-50 as well as 20-20, its own Champions Trophy and its own Asia Cup. Hence cricket does not require the Olympics, Commonwealth Games or the Asian Games.

  • Arun on June 27, 2014, 10:23 GMT

    I completely agree with India_boy. We may all love cricket; Olympics may be great for cricket; but I am quite sure that cricket isn't good for the Olympics.

    Just imagine fitting Arjuna Ranatunga or Amit Mishra into the Olympic motto 'Faster higher stronger'. ROFL

  • Nihal on June 27, 2014, 10:07 GMT

    I suppose a move such as this is a bit too much to hope for from cricket's insular old boys' club. I agree with the author that a move towards making cricket an Olympic sport would give a significant fillip to cricket's identity in countries like China and some of the other associates and affiliates, as well as further cricket for women and the disabled. Big 3, being the new dictators in chief, please listen to the fans and get cricket to the Olympics.

  • P on June 27, 2014, 8:53 GMT

    Well & thanks India_boy: I can't see a logical reason why the Commonwealth Games wouldn't be a fine place to start. Make it T10 or F15 if there are going to be time issues or even the greatest format of the game going around: lastmanstands!

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