Gaurav Kalra is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo
Raja Randhir Singh, the Secretary General of the Olympic Council of Asia and till recently India's sole representative at the International Olympic Committee, has said cricket is giving up on the chance for "global expansion" by staying out of the Olympics.
Responding to a report on ESPNcricnfo that cricket at the Olympics is likely to remain a distant dream, Singh said, "If cricket was on the Olympic programme it would give a great boost, it would not be restricted to the few countries where it's played and it would come on a global stage where all the greats of the world of sport are playing."
The opposition to a push for cricket to return to the Olympic fold for the first time since 1900 is being led by the BCCI and the ECB. Singh says he has been "very disappointed" with the BCCI's attitude on the issue for the last few years. India refused to send either their men's or women's teams to the last Asian Games in Guangzhou in 2010 and Singh hopes they will change their stance for the upcoming Asian Games in the Korean city of Incheon in September.
"They should send a team and I hope they do so. Even China is putting up teams and other countries in Asia are following suit. Why not cricket, the sport needs to be expanded."
One of the BCCI's objections to joining the Olympics is their concern over giving up its 'member autonomy'. Over the last few years, the BCCI has steadfastly kept its distance from the Indian Olympic Association as well as the sports ministry. There is a view in the BCCI that if the national team participates in multi-discipline games their position may come under scrutiny. Singh recalls how despite "trying very hard", the BCCI refused to accept cricket as part of the last Commonwealth games in Delhi.
Several high-profile cricketers have been strong supporters of the idea. At his MCC Spirit of Cricket lecture in 2009, Adam Gilchrist made an impassioned plea saying, "The bid for cricket's inclusion and subsequent Olympic participation should sit at the heart of the ICC's global game development strategy." He added, "If cricket became an Olympic sport, many countries would be playing cricket seriously for the first time in their history. By seriously, I mean that they would have to start developing a truly integrated cricket program as part of their participation in the Olympics."
Steve Waugh, who mentored the Australian Olympic team in 2008 at Beijing, was another vehement supporter of the idea. "If you want to globalise the game then you have to look at including countries like China and the United States, and getting cricket into the Olympics will fast-track that move," Waugh said. Kumar Sangakkara, Sourav Ganguly and Stephen Fleming were among other prominent voices that spoke out in favour of the move at the time.
As reported by ESPNcricinfo, the ongoing discussions are based on a report presented at last year's annual conference in London "on the benefits and drawbacks of cricket's potential involvement in the Olympics". Besides the BCCI, the ECB is the other full member opposed to a push for a place at the Olympics. The ECB estimates it will need to be compensated to the tune US$160 million as its early season will be disrupted by an Olympics. Singh rejects that claim saying, "It's a question of 15 days, how does it make a difference?. Every international sport fixes their calendar around the Olympics and they aren't something that's shifted around. I think cricket can work its calendar around that."
Cricket's relationship with multi-discipline events has never really flowered. The 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur featured 16 teams in a 50-over competition with South Africa winning gold. While it was argued in some quarters that the experiment did not succeed, some of the participants were more upbeat. Steve Waugh, who led Australia at the event, described it as the "time of his life" and said "winning the silver medal was one of the highlights of my career." Singh, who was at Kuala Lumpur at the time, remembers the event being "well received" though many countries, including India did not send their best teams.
Since the advent and success of T20, many see the format as a natural fit at multi-discipline games that lasts for just two weeks. There have also been suggestions to consider a structure similar to the one followed by football at the Olympics - only three players over the age of 23 are allowed to be part of the national squad. For the moment though, the ICC, or at least persuasive voices within it, appear to be indifferent to any such proposal. As Singh points out, "It depends on the interest of the national federation or the international federation concerned if they want to be part of the Olympic programme."