The International Cricket Council hasn’t been promoting cricket.
The Olympic Games. The pinnacle of international sporting events. Every athlete’s dream is to one day hear their country’s national anthem play when they win gold and do their nation proud. Unfortunately for us, in over 100 years of participation, we’ve heard our national anthem play just 9 times. That’s right, we’ve amassed just 9 gold medals in a country of over a billion. As a comparison, our friendly neighbour China has got nearly 250 golds in a shorter time frame.
But there is a way to shorten that gap, marginally so of course. There exists a sport that we excel at as a country, that we watch as a religion, that is so much a part of each one of us, that even those Indians that hate the sport know more about it than the rest of the world. The Gentleman’s game could be a great opportunity for us to get another gold, and consistently.
That is, if it were an Olympic sport.
The Olympic Games are the largest sports competition in the world. Image source: publicdomainpictures.net
I know that while watching the Olympics last year a large number of Indians would have wondered why cricket wasn't in the games. “Too few countries play it,” many thought, and that’s about where the discussion ended. If there aren't enough countries playing it, then it didn't warrant a place at the Olympics. However, quite a few countries do, over 125 according to the ICC. Even if those numbers are incredibly inaccurate, they still seem adequate to have a knockout phase and finals to determine a winner.
In actuality, cricket does warrant a place at the Olympics. It has the second largest viewership among major sports in the world. It requires great amounts of both physical ability and mental prowess. The game even has an illustrious history which helps its case. The trump card for cricket however, is it’s Twenty 20 format. This revolutionised the game, adding great amounts of entertainment and energy in a much shorter time frame. The condensed format would, in the opinion of many pundits, allow for the sport to be realistically played out by around 8 teams during the Olympic schedule, with knockouts taking place before the event.
Some of crickets biggest talents are from India, but may never contest in the Olympics. Image source: India.com
On paper, cricket belongs in the Olympics. So why hasn't it happened till now?
The answer lies inside a building in Dubai that houses the chieftains of this beautiful game - the International Cricket Council. The ICC, according to me, could be what stands between India and a gold at the 2024 Olympics, and the reason really stings.
The T20 format may help cricket’s bid for a berth at the Olympics, but it may also hurt it. The shortest format of the game is immensely popular, so popular in fact, that it has a World Cup every even calendar year. Due to this, the T20 World Cup schedule would clash with the Summer Olympic schedule. So if cricket is to feature in the Olympics, it’s T20 world cup would have to move to a 4 year cycle.
Effectively removing a World Cup from the ICC schedule means that the council lose out on a ton of revenue from one of its most profitable competitions, and the Olympic Package dividend received in compensation has been estimated to be inadequate. Ask yourself this question - why would the ICC have any incentive to push for the inclusion of cricket into a channel which effectively loses it money?
The ICC is yet to put in a bid for the inclusion of cricket as an Olympic sport. Image source: indusage.com
For cricketing big boys like Australia and England, the situation isn't the same as India. They have sports teams and athletes that win them medals on a consistent basis, so their respective cricketing boards do not experience much pressure to put subsequent pressure on the ICC. Even the West Indies are in a precarious position. The West Indian cricket team as we know it, is an alliance of 15 nations. So even if cricket does go to the Olympics, they will not be able to play together; rendering them uninterested in the whole ordeal.
But none of this matters to India or Indian cricket fans, in the current setup. From a financial point of view, India is a cricketing superpower. 70% of the ICC’s entire revenue is generated through Indian markets, and according to the latest revenue sharing model proposed by the council, we aren't even getting paid equitably for the money we bring in. As it stands, the ICC is dependant on Indian revenue.
Time is of the essence here, as the ICC has about a month left to come up with a decision on the issue of cricket in the 2024 Olympics. If we miss out there, we will have to wait over a decade to possibly catch India fight it out for a medal. By then it remains to be seen what the state of both Indian, and International cricket is.
For everything the BCCI is, it has not been a pushover on the international front. If the BCCI really wants the ICC to push immediately for cricket in the Olympics, they can. Because technically, if India boycotts a single competition (as they threatened to do with the Champions Trophy recently), that event generates only around a third of the revenue it would. Suddenly, the money the ICC would make via the Olympics, and the overall benefit of cricket on the global stage, would seem a lot more lucrative.
As a country, we find ourselves in the drivers seat on this issue. Cricket legends have been campaigning for the inclusion of T20 in the Olympics since 2008. The last time Cricket featured in a major sporting competition such as the Olympics was the Commonwealth Games in 1998. The sport is being dealt with unfairly by its own administrators, in my opinion.
The new T20 format makes cricket in the Olympics a strong possibility. Image source: indianexpress.com
Cricket at the Olympics would boost the popularity of the game even further, spreading it to countries outside of the Commonwealth as well. More countries playing cricket seriously is never a bad thing, even for the ICC.
For India, the chance to return from the 2024 Olympics with 15 cricketing medalists is something that fans of the game would die for. We’ve dominated cricket, on and off the pitch. We have two World Cups and the very first T20 World Cup. All that’s missing for us is an Olympic Gold.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101India.com.
By Rahul Sawhney
Cover photo credit: static.sify.com