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Plenty of Obstacles Stand Between Cricket and the Olympic Podium

6 Feb, 2019

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

If cricket wants to be on the Olympic program, it has a few significant obstacles to overcome. And the first of those is it has to actually apply.

Need proof? In 2017, headlines blared “Cricket is on the verge of applying for Olympic inclusion.” Except that it remained on the verge – and never applied. At all. As a result, the sport missed out on consideration for the Games in Paris in 2024.

Now, enthusiasts, including Indian cricket great Sachin Tendulkar, are backing a push by the International Cricket Council (ICC) to have the sport included on the Olympic program for Los Angeles 2028. This time, they say, they intend to move forward with an application.

Whether the application is a success, though, remains to be seen. A number of other problems stand between the sport and the Olympic podium (aside, of course, from getting IOC approval). Many of these ideas, set forth in the blog, ThoughtCo, are formidable but put together, they present hurdles that might be insurmountable:

Constructing the high-level venues needed is going to be difficult – and expensive:  To build the kind of field (known as a pitch) needed for international play demands a level of expertise and knowledge – and it’s expensive to build to the exacting tolerances required. And realistically, more than one field would need to be built, along with lighting, grandstands, scoreboards and other infrastructure. In all likelihood, the acreage needed exceeds what would be available in the areas L.A. expects to use for the Olympic venues.

The LA2028 Organizing Committee has already committed to a sustainable and financially responsible Games, and the possibility of constructing multiple large venues (whihch realistically may never see enough use after the Games are over to warrant their initial construction) may remove cricket from the table early. Add to that the fact that the host city is able to help select new sports for the Games they host and you have an incredibly large hurdle to overcome.

It lacks global appeal: Admittedly, not every sport is familiar to, or popular in, every country around the world. And cricket, while exceptionally popular worldwide (many polls rank it as the second-most popular sport in terms of fan base), has its strongest fan base in the U.K. and the Commonwealth countries. The sport is overwhelmingly strong in former British colonies, including India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Australia. (This is not to say it isn’t played in the U.S., Canada, China, Japan and South America, for example; those simply aren’t a stronghold for the sport).

It’s a slower game: ThoughtCo says it best: “You will never see a cricket World Cup, let alone a four- or five-day Olympic tournament. Even Twenty20 cricket, currently the shortest type of cricket and the likely format for an Olympic competition, takes at least three-and-a-half hours for a single match. If the tournament followed the same format as Olympic football (soccer), with 16 teams in four groups, that would make for over 100 hours of cricket, far too long for the Games, which feature around 300 events, all of which would be cricket's rivals for viewer attention.”

Of course, it should be noted that baseball and softball games take only slightly less – about three hours – and the enthusiasts of those games were enraged when the sport was taken out of the Olympics several cycles ago.

There’s not as much in it for cricket as enthusiasts want to think: A sport should be able to realize a direct economic benefit from inclusion – and cricket might not. ThoughtCo notes, “If the tournament were Twenty20, that could mean that the biennial World Twenty20 tournament — one of cricket's biggest cash cows — would have to switch to a four-year cycle, potentially taking millions of dollars out of the game. What's more, the Olympics might generate a generous income from television rights, but that money would go to the International Olympic Committee rather than the ICC. As a part of the Olympics package, cricket would receive a dividend, but estimates suggest that would be worth less than a World T20 tournament to the ICC's bottom line.”

The support may not be there across the board (and the politics are problematic): An article in Inside The Games noted: “The Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI) has long been viewed as being against potential inclusion. The powerful BCCI has reportedly expressed concern over cricket’s inclusion at the Games, with fears they would lose their autonomy to the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), who would organize the Indian team if cricket was included. As the BCCI is one of the main powerbrokers in world cricket, a bid for cricket’s inclusion in the Olympics would be virtually impossible without their backing.”

There’s (no surprise) plenty of competition:Multiple sports, including squash, boules, darts, snooker (and eSports, although Thomas Bach recently downplayed that chance) are among those vying for inclusion in Paris. The new sports in Tokyo in 2020 (karate, sport climbing, baseball/softball, surfing and skateboarding) will be trying to return as well, so cricket will have its work cut out for it.

As always, expect plenty of drama and debate leading up to the selection process. SDM will continue to follow this developing issue.

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