Cricket at the summer Olympics is likely to remain a distant dream, not only because India and England are leading the opposition against the idea, but also due to the financial and commercial implications of it for all members of the ICC.
Cricket is one of 33 sports recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) which, it is understood, has "encouraged" the ICC to apply for the inclusion of a Twenty20 event in the Olympics, featuring up to 12 teams, both men and women. The IOC will take a decision in 2017 on which new sports to add to the existing roster for the 2024 Olympics, following an evaluation period that begins in 2015.
At last year's annual conference in London, the ICC executive board was presented a report "on the benefits and drawbacks of cricket's potential involvement in the Olympics". The board deferred its decision to next week's annual conference, even while deciding to first forward the report to the Associates and Affliliates (A&A) - they were asked to deliberate on the matter during the A&A meeting scheduled for Tuesday. It is understood that Neil Speight, the chairman of the A&A, who sits as one of the directors on the ICC board, felt it was important for A&A countries to study the report.
Cricket at the Olympics has always received a firm nod from the A&A countries and the report confirmed that view. "[The inclusion] has proved highly popular with the majority of Associate and Affiliate members, yet it also creates significant problems for prominent Full Members," it said. Based on a survey conducted in 2008, 90% of the ICC's members supported the idea, with a few reservations.
Jon Long, ICC's head of strategic management and support services, who prepared the report, pointed out that his findings were based "predominantly from the economic perspective". According to the report, if cricket were to be part of the 2024 Olympics it would receive a "projected" dividend of US $15-20 million from the IOC. All ICC members would receive both government and national Olympics committee support of "several million dollars" per year, in addition to an estimated $4-6 million annually from the Olympic Solidarity funding. The ICC also stood to earn "increased incomes" from A&A member countries for ICC-event media rights. The inclusion would also be a boost for women's cricket, which the report said could enhance its profile globally.
The report also pointed out potential drawbacks, both direct and indirect, which Long felt made the decision a very difficult one for the ICC. One of the biggest impediments was whether the ICC was willing to stage the World T20 every four years, instead of following the current two-year cycle. Last year, the ICC decided that the men's World T20 would be held once every four years starting 2016, in line with its goal of having one pinnacle tournament for every format of the game over a four-year period.
"The impact of an Olympic cricket tournament will depend to a large extent on the frequency with which the ICC World T20 is staged in the future," the report said. "If the plan is to stage the World T20 every two years then, in all likelihood, an Olympic cricket tournament would have to replace one of these competitions in the future. If the plan is to target a four-year cycle for the World T20, then the ICC events calendar could potentially be rearranged to accommodate the Olympic T20 event every four years."
A related consequence was lower financial returns as the report pointed out the revenue from the Olympics event would "not come close to offsetting" the projected revenues from a World T20. "By way of direct comparison, member distributions (after costs) from the ICC World T20 in 2012 were US$85.5m, whereas the distribution to a lower-ranked international federation from London 2012 was only US$14m," the report said.
One of the other big obstacles was the Olympics clashing with the cricketing seasons of various Full Members - this was the ECB's main point of contention. "In the England and Wales Cricket Board's, the potential for a clash occurs every four years. Indeed, the ECB has estimated that an Olympic Games in the first half of August could see it lose an entire four-match Test series which would, based on its current valuations, cause cricket in England and Wales to miss out on revenues of US$130 million and would - based on the knock-on effects in other years - require compensation of approximately US$ 160 million," the report stated.
This problem was England's alone, the report indicated, considering other Full Members like Sri Lanka, West Indies and Zimbabwe hosted bilateral tournaments during the summer months.
In India's case, the reported pointed out the main issue was to do with "member autonomy", something the BCCI was reluctant to give up. "This has previously been raised as a critical issue by the BCCI and no decision to proceed could be made without a satisfactory resolution of this matter," the report said.
The report stated that having an additional T20 event could also harm the cricketing ecosystem at a time when the ICC has been striving hard to maintain a balance between three formats of the game. "There is already a trend emerging of more T20 matches being scheduled in the months leading up to an ICC World T20 event, and an Olympic competition could inspire a similar increase in the number of T20 international matches. The introduction of this event should be considered in the wider context of other strategic issues including the balance between the three international formats, player workloads and domestic leagues," the report said.
The report concluded by stating recent entrants to the Olympics fold, like rugby7s and golf, had done it on "emotion and instinct" whereas the ICC was more keen on embracing an "evidence-based" approach. "One certainty is that cricket undoubtedly has the capacity to thrive as a sport with or without the Olympic Games. The manner in which it will grow, however, will depend on the strategic decisions that are taken by the ICC board. A judgment on whether or not to pursue inclusion in the Olympic Games is arguably one of the biggest strategic decisions it will face."