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Monday, Aug 19, 2019

Mutual benefits bringing Olympics, cricket closer

The Olympics needs new markets and audiences going ahead and cricket needs a loftier pedestal to be recognised as a truly global sport

cricket Updated: Aug 15, 2019 08:55 IST
Ayaz Memon
Ayaz Memon
India's Rohit Sharma, right, is run out by West Indies' Kemar Roach for 10 runs during the third One-Day International cricket match in Port of Spain, Trinidad, Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019.
India's Rohit Sharma, right, is run out by West Indies' Kemar Roach for 10 runs during the third One-Day International cricket match in Port of Spain, Trinidad, Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019. (AP)
         

If all goes well, cricket should return to the Olympic fold in 2028, in Los Angeles. Encouraging statements emerging from ICC and MCC in the past week or so are a clear pointer in that direction.

Moreover, there has been no contra indication from BCCI—the strongest opponent to cricket becoming part of the Olympics in the past few decades—so it would appear that a consensus has perhaps been reached, even if informally, between ICC’s constituents.

Women’s cricket will figure in the 2022 Asian and Commonwealth Games as has been ratified already. The men’s event is taking longer because several issues have vexing dimensions and still need to be ironed out: broadcast rights for instance.

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What’s evident, however, is a rapprochement from previously held recalcitrant positions. Mutual benefits are obviously impelling this trajectory for both parties.

New markets

The Olympics needs new markets and audiences going ahead and cricket needs a loftier pedestal to be recognised as a truly global sport.

For the record, the only other occasion when cricket featured in the Olympics was almost 120 years earlier, at Paris in 1900. It had been included in the inaugural modern Olympics in 1896 too, but the event was cancelled because of insufficient entries.

Cricket exited the Olympic consciousness for almost a century as England (and/or MCC), then the most powerful entity in cricket, had kept aloof for the better part of the 20th century. This came through a combination of vanity (that `cricket’s unique identity’ was sacrosanct), and the more plausible plea of logistical impossibility.

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The time factor in cricket militated against it being part of a multi-discipline event. Test cricket was always a no-no, but even when limited overs cricket was conceptualised in the early 1960s, there was little effort to make it an Olympic sport.

More vocal

Things started changing from the 1990s. Cricket administrations from England, and particularly Australia, became vocal about getting into Olympics. Stellar players like Steve Waugh (Adam Gilchrist too) pushed for it.

By now, however, the power matrix in cricket had changed dramatically. India was the major domo and BCCI—on a roll in exploiting the popularity of the sport and acquiring great financial heft—was not keen on diluting its equity.

Interestingly, the pro-Olympics voices in cricket found strong support in the Indian Olympic Association and sports ministry, long looking to gain control of BCCI, in the 1990s.

A protracted tug-of-war between BCCI and IOA ended in a compromise of sorts when India agreed to play cricket in the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur.

One team from India went to play a bilateral ODI series versus Pakistan in Toronto, and another, which included Sachin Tendulkar, went for the Commonwealth Games. That was the last time cricket was part of a multi-disciple event.

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How have things changed in the 20-odd years since? The arrival of and phenomenal success of T20 provided a format that fit in well within the requirements of Olympics. T20 was fast paced, could be completed within time, and was played by far more countries than the other two formats.

More pertinently, cricket has a captive audience of close to 2 billion, mostly in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh (two of these strong-growth economies) where the Olympics otherwise is not on sound footing.

This is a constituency IOC is seeking badly, for ideological and commercial reasons. Imagine the telecast rights of the Olympics that includes cricket in its package! Cricket too is seeking enhanced stature.

The Olympics is the acme in sports, and younger players specially covet being recognised as Olympians. Yet, there were misgivings about surrendering control over the sport, and these manifest differently. BCCI not conforming to anti-doping measures as suggested by IOC is one instance. BCCI has now come under NADA. But this is one of many changes that have taken place over the past couple of decades, the most important being in the mindset.

This is not to suggest that getting cricket into the Olympics will be a cakewalk. Fear that being part of the Olympics will rob them of power and control has haunted all cricket Boards, not just BCCI. How to keep their relevance, political and financial, intact, is a huge challenge.

But a start has been made. If everyone is on the same page that cricket and the Olympics deserve each other, ways can be found.

The writer is a senior sports analyst.

First Published: Aug 15, 2019 08:55 IST

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