Cricket at the Olympics – good news all around for a sport going global

October 11, 2023 12:30 am | Updated October 14, 2023 11:05 am IST

Representational file image.

Representational file image. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

For the average cricket fan, the news that the sport will be featured at the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028 is welcome, even inspiring. Modern players from Steve Smith and Trent Boult to Ravichandran Ashwin and Shubhman Gill have said they are all for it. An Olympic gold is the most coveted honour in international sport even if world championships are sometimes seen to be on a plane of their own.

But administrators seldom think like the average fan – their pulls and pressures are different.

For long the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) was opposed to Olympics participation for a variety of reasons, as were the players themselves. The International Cricket Council (ICC) was not too keen either, seeing the quadrennial event cutting into their already crowded calendar.

Unique and independent

The BCCI was unhappy to be dealing with the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), and coming under its remit which included following the rules under which the national sports federations function. Cricket’s governing body sees itself as unique and independent, raising its own funds without any recourse to handouts from the government.

It is comfortable in the knowledge that cricket is the most popular sport in the country with more sponsors, keener battles over television rights and in effect control over the international game. The BCCI made it clear that the cricket team would participate only if there was no interference from the IOA.

The players were unhappy about the random dope testing which the World Ant-Doping Agency might subject them to. The argument was one of privacy being breached if the players were forced to inform the anti-doping agencies, either national or the world body, about their whereabouts.

A few months ago, the BCCI secretary Jay Shah had said, “Once cricket is added in the Olympics, India will be participating,” adding, “The BCCI and the ICC are on the same page as far as participation in the Olympics is concerned.” This is good news for the globalisation of a sport too few countries play at the highest level.

Commercial bonanza

The International Olympic Committee is fully aware of the draw cricket has for the Asian countries, especially in the subcontinent. Its motivation is as much sporting as commercial. The Guardian newspaper has calculated that the current Olympic broadcast rights in India worth around $20 million (for the Paris Olympics in 2024) would rise to ten times that figure with cricket added.

For lesser cricketing countries whose coffers aren’t overflowing, the Olympics will come as a boon because of the support they would receive from their governments, and from the IOC itself.

Cricket was last played at the Olympics in its second edition in 1900. One match was played where England beat France for the gold medal. The T20 format, so successful at the Asian Games, is most likely to be used at the Olympics (men and women).

England, another country initially reluctant to field a team at the Olympics, might push for the Hundred format which is played in that country. The lack of an international competition and rankings in the Hundred or the T10 might give the nod to T20 which has a World Cup.

No dilution

And that could be an issue too, for the ICC might not want their own World Cups to be diluted or replaced by the Olympics as the top tournament in the sport. Perhaps it could do what FIFA, the governing body of football did, setting the age limit at 23 and allowing only three players older in a team.

The call to have cricket at LA will be officially ratified at the 141st IOC session which begins on Sunday. That it will be held in Mumbai might be indication that ratification is a mere formality. Especially now that the BCCI is on board.

Cricket’s re-entry into the Olympics is fitting for the second most popular sport in the world behind football, and with a fan base of nearly three billion people.

By the 2028 Olympics, Rohit Sharma would have turned 40, Virat Kohli would be heading there and K.L. Rahul would have blown out 36 candles on his large birthday cake. Shubhman Gill will still be only 29. Five years is not such a long time to wait, after all.

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