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Cricket’s Olympic Moment Needs a Lot Fleshed Out Before Return at LA 2028

As cricket returns to the Olympics, there are many ignored facets of the game that will need to be addressed.

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There has been much celebration over the past couple of days in the cricketing fraternity. The news that the sport will be part of the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028, a decision made at the International Olympic Committee (IOC)’s session in Mumbai, has given much joy to a beleaguered sport that is fighting to remain a global project.

Cricket required an injection of this kind because globally it was on the brink of becoming a one nation sport, much like most games in the United States of America (USA). Just how long the sport could have sustained being just an Indian game is anybody’s guess.

The emergence of several franchises based T20 leagues and the T10 leagues in certain other parts of the world had threatened the health of the nation vs nation contest in cricket. But now with the inclusion of cricket as an Olympic sport there is hope about bringing the focus back on the national team’s preparations.

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As cricket returns to the Olympics, there are many ignored facets of the game that will need to be addressed.

US Ambassador Eric Garcetti with members of the IOC and BCCI while announcing cricket as one of the sports picked for the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

(Photo: Twitter/US Ambassador Eric Garcetti)

The announcement has multiple effects because now with cricket being part of the global Olympic event, there is scope for more investment flowing into more countries. Thus far India was the only self-sustaining cricket playing country. More than 90% of the money in cricket globally stems from India and the Indian audience only. With cricket being part of the Olympic movement, governments worldwide will then start investing in their national teams and its development.

This is a huge boost for the sport in that sense. The other Test playing nations will now have some sort of hope of getting funds from their governments and thereby investing it at the grassroots. Most other countries, except Pakistan, depend on a tour by India to sustain itself for the short and medium term because the Indian team travelling to their shores brings in sponsorship and broadcast revenues like no other event.

Olympics Over World Cup?

Before 2028 though, cricket has several questions to tackle of its own before the Olympic dream becomes a reality in Los Angeles.

With T20 cricket being added as one of the five new sports in LA 2028, the question then emerges - what event then becomes the pinnacle for the format. Is it the Olympics or the T20 World Cup? Just who will play in the Olympics?

The football model has a system where only three national team players play in the Olympics, whereas the rest of the squad is made up of under-23 players. In some other sports like field hockey, the Olympics is the pinnacle of the sport. An Olympic gold is something that the hockey teams live and aspire for. Will it be similar for cricket?

There are reports that just six teams will be part of the Olympics in Los Angeles. That is a good first step. But how will these six teams be chosen? The United States of America (USA) will qualify by default as they are the host, but how will the other five teams be chosen? The qualification process for the Olympics will add one more layer of tournaments in an already crowded calendar announced by the International Cricket Council (ICC) themselves till 2031.

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As cricket returns to the Olympics, there are many ignored facets of the game that will need to be addressed.

ICC Teams or Olympic Nations?

Then there are other questions that will need to be answered with regards to representation. England and Wales play as England in cricket, but at the Olympics it is Great Britain that will need to be represented. This means that England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will become part of the Great Britain cricket team.

Now this is interesting because the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, come together to form the Irish cricket team. But at the Olympics the same team could be divided because they are essentially two separate countries.

Then there is the issue of the West Indies. They are essentially a group of independent island nations who come together for cricket. But at the Olympics they will need to compete separately.

In most other countries, especially in the gulf, players play for the national teams from that region on the basis of residency not on the basis of citizenship. This is a leeway that cricket offers those regions and players. But will the Olympic movement also offer the same leeway?

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Cricket now has 108 members and all of them have T20 International status. So, five teams from 107 members (minus USA) will have to be chosen through a long-drawn-out process. At the same time the ICC and its members cannot ignore their most high-profile members like India, Australia etc. It is going to be an interesting time in the coming years because of these unanswered questions.

The ICC has sold all its rights till 2031. They have a clogged calendar with several World Cups, T20 World Cups and Champions Trophy as well. With the addition of cricket at the Olympics, they will have to do a juggling act to ensure that their own showpiece events do not suffer.

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As cricket returns to the Olympics, there are many ignored facets of the game that will need to be addressed.

Mr. Thomas Bach - President IOC and Nita M Ambani with young cricketers in Mumbai on the sidelines of the IOC session in the city.

(Photo: PTI)

Cricket's Will Need to Answer Ignored Questions

It remains to be seen if any thought has been applied to equal representation to female cricketers and teams. Remember countries like Afghanistan do not allow their women to play the sport. Since the takeover by Taliban a generation of female cricketers just from that country have been lost. Some of them have even moved over to other countries. The Olympic movement will not be as tardy as the cricket ecosystem is with regards to this.

Also, there are issues like doping, corruption in sport etc which will need to be dealt with an iron hand to ensure that cricket enjoys the kind of massive support that it has garnered over the years.

Most importantly remember that cricket has had several globalisation projects over the past 30 years. They have all come to a nought. They have tried multiple ways to make cricket popular in the USA and China, apart from other parts of the world. Thus far it has yielded minimum results. The sport has now become an Indian subcontinent product. Just look at the number of Indian or Pakistani origin players playing the sport globally and you have your answer.

For cricket to survive as a global sport, they need to grab the Olympic lifeline with both hands. If they let go of this opportunity the sport will be lost forever at the global stage. We could then be down to having World Championship finals between franchise sides in India in the coming years. This is the norm in the USA. You would not have the same fate for cricket too.

So celebrate as much as you can for now, but remember to deal with the harsh reality too. 

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