Although cricket tops the Olympics in terms of viewership, it has failed to capture the IOC’s interest for 120 years.
History of Cricket in the Olympics
Even though cricket was part of the 1900 Summer Olympics, it was only one game. Due to its format – if the game took place today – no one would even bat an eye. The match is not even classified as a first-class match. There were 12 players in one team, while it was scheduled as a two-day match.
The competing teams were Great Britain (GB) and France. However, both teams were not nationally selected; GB was represented by the Devon and Somerset Wanderers Cricket Club, while France was represented by the French Athletic Club Union, which also consisted of many British immigrants from Paris.
Great Britain were the winners and thus remain the only country to have an Olympic gold medal in cricket as they defeated France by 158 runs.
Efforts of ICC and Cricket Boards
There have been efforts by the ICC to reinclude cricket in the Olympics. However, some cricket boards have openly been against it, notably BCCI and ECB. Former ICC Chairman David Richardson said that “the time is right for cricket to be included in the Olympics.”
At one point, ICC considered applying for inclusion in the 2024 Olympics. However, the initial deadline for submitting initial sports for the 2024 Paris Olympics has ended. Still, hosts Paris can propose events in a meeting that is to be held after the 2020 Olympics.
The format of cricket in the Olympics is likely to be T20 as the format has to be short enough to be completed in a short period. It likely cannot be T10 or The Hundred as it has to be internationally played. England captain Eoin Morgan, however, said that T10 is better suited to the big events like Commonwealth Games or Olympics.
Problems Cricket Faces in Olympic Admission
Can T20s be the answer to the time length issue?
Until T20 came around, watching cricket used to be a full-day activity. Even though T20 shortened it and opened it for more people, especially the youth, some might feel that the space of a couple of weeks is not enough for a T20 tournament.
The IOC determines that if the format is widely recognized worldwide, it can only then be used in the Olympics. Hence, shorter formats like T10 or The Hundred cannot be used in the Olympics.
West Indies or Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados? England or Great Britain?
In the Olympics, countries compete against each other, but the West Indies, which has a rich history and a bright future in cricket, is not a country. The same goes for England; there is not a team in the Olympics which represents England only. Great Britain represents Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland along with England. Normally in cricket, Welsh players play for England while Scotland has its own team. Players from Northern Ireland either play for England or Ireland.
The next two Olympics are scheduled to be held in Paris and Los Angeles, respectively. Paris was the host to the only cricket match held in the Olympics, at the Vélodrome de Vincennes. The ground was last used for an official cricket match in 2013 when Marylebone Cricket Club visited France. The ground is now used for other sports such as cycling, football, and rugby.
Even though cricket is now being held in the USA, it still lacks Olympic-level cricket stadiums – stadiums like The Gabba or MCG or Lord’s. However, if cricket is included in the Olympics by 2032, we might see cricket being played as an Olympic sport at world-class facilities since the 2032 Olympics are scheduled for Brisbane.
Also, due to the fear of a pitch being tampered with, the stadium which hosts cricket cannot host any other sport during the cricket tournament. So there has to be a cricket-specific stadium for the Olympics, which, if built from scratch, will be a huge cost. It will possibly generate lesser revenue than other arenas as only one sport will be played there.
According to the ICC, the 2019 Cricket World Cup’s most viewed match (India vs. Pakistan) attracted 273 million viewers! Meanwhile, according to the Wall Street Journal, the opening ceremony of the 2016 Summer Olympics attracted 26.5 million viewers. If we go further back, the 2012 London Olympics’ opening ceremony attracted 40.7 million viewers. Seeing these numbers, one might think that cricket is more popular than Olympics.
However, most of those 273 million viewers come from the densely populated South Asian subcontinent, England, Australia, and South Africa. Meanwhile, the viewership of the Olympics is spread out, with people from the USA, Europe, and South America following it, along with people in Asian countries too.
If cricket is to be included in the Olympics, the boards, ICC, IOC, and other relevant authorities will have to sit down and have a serious discussion. How can they resolve the problems mentioned above and integrate one of the world’s most popular sports into this great event? It would be a great moment for cricket lovers, and let’s hope we see it come to fruition.