Cricket in the Olympics – But when?

It has been 112 years – two years longer than an Allen Stanford prison sentence – since two club sides from Great Britain and France played what, to date, has been the one and only game of cricket at the Olympic Games. We may not have to wait so long again for the sport to return to the modern Games, but there will be many hurdles to overcome first.

Even as cricket’s solitary, and flawed, contest at the 1998 Commonwealth Games unfolded, participation in the Olympics seemed little more than a fantasy. Three changes, in particular, have made cricket more attractive on the global scene.

First, membership of the International Cricket Council has expanded significantly since the late 1990s, and with the recent admission of Russia and Hungary now stands at 106.

Secondly, the invention of the Twenty20 format in 2003 gave cricket a practical short-form version that would be possible to insert into a two-week multi-sport festival such as the Olympic, Commonwealth or Asian Games.

And thirdly, the ICC took control of women’s cricket internationally with the amalgamation of the IWCC in 2005. Since 2009, the ICC World Twenty20 tournament has enabled a world-class women’s cricket event to be staged alongside the equivalent men’s event – a pre-requisite these days for Olympic inclusion.

Indeed, the biennial ICC World Twenty20 – the fourth of which will be staged in Sri Lanka in September and October – provides a tangible model of what an Olympic cricket tournament could look like. The network of qualifying tournaments provides a pathway by which any member nation could, if good enough, play themselves toward a gold medal.

So what are the prospects for cricket’s inclusion in future Olympic Games? It’s already much too late to think about Rio 2016, but even the 2020 games, to held in one of the three non-cricketing centres of Istanbul, Madrid or Tokyo, appear out of reach. Seven sports from karate to wushu and combined baseball/softball bid are competing for one remaining available spot on the 2020 program.

Therefore cricket would, at the earliest, be seeking inclusion in the 2024 Olympiad. The ICC is currently in the process of tendering for a TV rights contract stretching until 2023. The draft international program for the next eleven years doesn’t provide much breathing space for the insertion of extra global events, and certainly not for events whose rights would not be owned by the ICC’s next media partner.

National team representations would, in some cases, follow different configurations to those appearing in normal ICC events – members of the Scotland team would struggle for Olympic selection in a United Kingdom side dominated by England. Northern Irish players would have the choice of playing for Ireland or trying their luck with the UK. There would be no West Indies team, as Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago and eight other nations strive individually for qualification.

What should cities bidding for the 2024 Games consider if they are thinking of including Twenty20 cricket? Presuming that there would be eight-team tournaments for each of the men and women, they would probably require two turf arenas of adequate size and shape, dedicated solely to cricket for the duration of the Games and staging up to three T20 matches daily. Drop-in cricket pitches of an international standard would need to be prepared in advance, unless a decision was made to play Olympic cricket on synthetic surfaces.

Should the IOC wait and see if the Commonwealth Games can stage a successful cricket event? The 1998 tournament in Kuala Lumpur was hurt by the failure of England, in the final weeks of its county season, to submit a team, while India and Pakistan arranged an ODI series in Canada for the very same week. Even if the leading cricket boards agree to co-operate, the earliest that we can expect to see a Commonwealth Games cricket competition is 2022.

Despite recent talks between the ICC board and the CGF president Prince Tunku Imran, the facts surrounding the 2018 Games are that host city Gold Coast did not include cricket in its bid, and cricket is not on the short list of sports applying for inclusion in the last remaining places. Can cricket justify the queue-jumping necessary to place itself into the 2018 Commonwealth Games program? It would greater commitment to international co-operation from the national boards than we are used to seeing on display.

Many of the smaller cricket nations seek inclusion in the Olympic Games so that their boards can obtain extra funding (or in many cases, any funding) from their governments. If cricket is ever to experience its own Olympic dream again, it may be up to the boards of the bigger nations to show that they are not the game’s worst enemy.

This column originally appeared on iSportconnect.

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