Opposition to cricket's entry into the Olympics is set to become increasingly problematic after the ICC was advised that the sport's preferred path to inclusion may be shelved by the IOC. The Olympics question is set to be among a suite of agenda items to be discussed at the ICC Annual Conference in Edinburgh this week.
The earliest window for cricket to be played at the Olympics is 2024, an event favoured to be awarded to Los Angeles. Budapest, Paris and Rome are the other bidding cities, with the formal award announcement to be made in September next year.
ESPNcricinfo has learned that greater urgency has been added to the debate by advice from the IOC that the direct entry path to the Games may soon be closed off. The ICC is eager to apply directly through the IOC, rather than through the local organising committees of individual games. This is partly because the IOC path involves direct funding of at least $15-20 million for the ICC, in addition to the money made available to each individual Board. It would also guarantee cricket's inclusion in at least two editions of the Olympics.
While that pathway is more attractive, the ICC has been told that it may be shut down for the 2024 Olympics and beyond, due to a desire to make the Games as flexible as possible for each host city. The 2020 Olympics, scheduled for Tokyo, recently nominated karate, skateboarding, sports climbing, surfing and baseball/softball for inclusion. To wait on the desire of a host city to add cricket would require the selection of a location that already has cricket as part of its culture, with the chance that it could then be dropped again after only one Olympics.
Earlier this month an IOC statement said: "The Organising Committee for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 proposed the new sports in response to the new flexibility provided by Olympic Agenda 2020, the IOC's strategic roadmap for the future of the Olympic Movement, to encourage innovation in the Olympic programme. Olympic Agenda 2020 gives host cities the option of suggesting new sports and events for inclusion in their edition of the Games. The host city selections are not binding on future Games hosts."
Recent talks between the ICC and the BCCI saw the Indian board reiterate its unwillingness to work with the Indian Olympic Association "in any way at this point in time". The BCCI's reluctance relates to issues of government intervention that have also been highlighted by the International Olympic Committee, notably when the IOA was suspended by the IOC between 2012 and 2014.
As a result of discussions with the BCCI, ICC management has agreed to speak to the IOC about the possibility of cricket entering the games without the BCCI entering into formal agreement with the IOA. Cricket's governing body will also ask the IOC whether it would be possible for the sport to be included in the Olympics without unanimous support of member nations.
However it is believed that ICC management has already concluded that both these possibilities are unlikely, leaving the BCCI's fractious relationship with the IOA as an enormous obstacle to cricket's participation in the Olympics. This is despite the softening of English opposition in particular, in recognition of the growth that would be possible were cricket to place itself under the Olympic umbrella.
That conclusion was strengthened by concurrent discussions with broadcasters, where the ICC has tested the financial viability of an Olympic T20 tournament for men and women in addition to the existing schedule of ICC events.
While it was agreed that much in the cricket calendar may change significantly between the present and any possible Olympic inclusion, the broadcasters advised that the shape and scope of the tournament would likely be very different to the World T20.
In that case, they concluded: "The more different that the two cricket events look, the less competition between the two and the less likely any negative impact on the commercial value of the ICC's existing WT20 events."
One early measure of cricket's place in multi-sport events may arrive for the 2022 Commonwealth Games, due to be held in Durban. There have been talks about including a women's tournament as part of those games, a move supported by Cricket South Africa and also up for discussion in ICC meetings this week.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig