Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last couple of weeks you will know that the Olympics have just concluded in Rio. Now when it comes to the sports that should be included, I have to admit I’m a little bit of a purist. A sport should be included based partly in order to grow at a global level. Individual sports such as golf or tennis, which are already massive worldwide and have huge global popularity,do not seem to be the best choice for the world’s biggest sporting spectacle. Their stars are already household names and the professionalism of their sport is anathema to what the Olympics should be about, namely giving those from the amateur pantheon their moment in the spotlight. I appreciate this is a slightly archaic view as the Olympics continues to grow, but in my mind there are sports far more worthy of a place in the Olympic calendar which continue to be either overlooked or not pushed by their governing body.
Unfortunately cricket seems to be in the latter category. Cricket has not been played at the Olympics since 1900, which to me is a travesty. The game is crying out for global growth and only recently have the ICC been making murmurings in this direction. There are Ten full playing members and the sport has yet to penetrate to other parts of the world with any great fervour. An Olympic T20 tournament, with contributing teams from say the USA and China, would do wonders for the sport in those parts of the world. And it would be a good medal chance for four Full members unable to win a gold in Rio – India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Indeed, look at Rugby sevens: included in the Olympics for the first time, giving Fiji its first ever gold medal, and causing rapturous scenes of celebration in that country. What the Olympics should be about, and imagine similar scenes if a smaller nation prevailed in a cricket tournament.
So why are the ICC reluctant? Well, there area number of reasons. One is finding time in the schedules for players to be released, the Olympics falling in the middle of the English summer. With a biannual World T20 back on the agenda, this would make it even more difficult to fit the Olympics into the calendar. Other issues – The BCCI has a fractuous relationship with its Olympic association due to government intervention. Another is that the playing conditions are at the moment unknown – would it be T20, mixed teams, Paralympics, something else? The length of the matches is problematic too – even an 8 team T20 would take up the best part of a week. These points have been raised by the higher echelons within the ICC and as yet nothing has been decided.
So all these issues look insurmountable, but to his credit, ICC chief executive is making noises about pushing for inclusion, rightly saying that cricket can never truly globalise without it. This should be the primary focus, and all the other issues can surely be worked out. And slowly some important figures are making the case, the MCC committee being a highly influential body pushing for a 2024 bid. I suspect that with the institutional nature of the ICC and their glacial progress on this issue, we will be waiting a long time. I can only hope not, for cricket will stagnate unless the Olympic question is resolved.