Should cricket become an Olympic sport?

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Posted by Elliott York - 09 June, 2017

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There has been plenty of talk surrounding the topic of cricket becoming an Olympic sport within the next eight years. 

The last time the sport appeared in the summer games was way back in 1900 when only Team GB and France participated. On that occassion Great Britain came home with the gold medal.

Step forward 117 years and the prospect of Team GB claiming gold again might not be so far beyond the horizon, but should the game even be considered to be in the Olympics again?

The 2024 Olympics, which will be hosted by Paris (the stage where we saw the last Olympic cricket action) or Los Angeles, is looking the most likely starting block for cricket's return.

Globalising cricket 

Tokyo 2020 will see baseball and softball return to the Olympic scene, an indication the IOC (International Olympic Committee) are willing to expand the number of sports that take part in the summer games. 

The ICC (International Cricket Council) have expressed how they feel like now is the right time for them to apply for an Olympic spot. 

Head of the ICC, Dave Richardson, speaking at the end of March commented;

"I think the majority of the members - and certainly myself - think the time is right." 

"We've come to the conclusion that the overall benefit to the game, in terms of globalising and growing it, outweighs any negatives." 

It is hard to disagree with Richardson's comments, we only have to take a look at how successful introducing rugby 7s to the Olympics was to see what impact it can have on a sport that's looking to expand. According to research, 7s has now adopted 17 million new fans since Fiji famously triumphed in 2016. Cricket, a sport traditionally played by a similar parts of the world and currently pushing hard to win back the sporting hearts of the UK, could follow suit. 

Some fans have warmed to idea of cricket entering the Olympics.

Others aren't so sure...

Richardson, speaking at the SportsPro Live conference in London, suggested;

“T20 is the ideal format and we’d say even better than rugby sevens as it’s actually one of the mainstream formats of cricket.”

This is another important point to take not of. Twenty20 is already an established style of the game, with the format churning out tons of money in popular franchise leagues such as the IPL and BBL.

It's certainly the most powerful format for winning over a new audience, but rugby's shortest format lasts only 14 minutes - you're average T20 game still goes on for two and a half hours. Will those with no knowledge of the game grasp it's complexities and stick it out so long?  

Success in the US Olympics in 2024 would be particuarly satisfying for a sport that has put a lot into globalising cricket in recent years. Even so, it's hard to envisage too many American fans choosing to watch a cricket game over a baseball or softball game, if the two prove to be successful in Tokyo.

Taking that into account, selecting when Twenty20 would be played in line with baseball and softball would be an important issue for the IOC to plan. If cricket is going to work at the Olympics, particuarly in markets where similar games are already huge sports, then the IOC need to make sure fans and players alike are going to want to turn up.

Persuading the best to play

This brings us onto a problem that could hinder the chances of the Twenty20 thriving at the Olympics. The IOC have warned the ICC that they must promise to bring the best players possible to the tournament, which could be the underlining issue in England. 

The England and Wales Cricket Board may raise concerns over this because this is of course when the majority of test matches are played in the England and the northern hemisphere. Persuading the best players from Britain to step back from their international duty to go play in the Olympics could be the biggest challenge facing the proposed plans. 

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It is highly likely this will be the case. We saw many of the worlds biggest golfers snubbing the chance to play in Rio, probably the main reason why the sport didn't do as well as it would have hoped. 

Luring the likes of Joe Root away from England's test matches to play for Great Britain in Paris or Los Angeles could arguably be harder than persuading the likes of Rory McIlroy to go for gold in Rio. This will certainly be the case if the games clash with an Ashes series...

Cricket remins a sport that heavily priorities the international stage is prioritised over county cricket (certainly when you compare it to the likes of football). In terms of county cricket, England's franchise T20 league will have launched come 2024. The IOC will have their work cut out to try and ship players off to the USA or France to potentially play in half empty stadiums, instead of raking in thousands of pounds for hitting 6s in front of capacity crowds back in the UK. 

Overloading Olympics? 

Another debate that isn't just focused on cricket is whether or not sports like rugby, football, golf, baseball and softball should even have a place at the Olympic games.

So will adding more and more mainstream sports eventually see the Olympics lose it's spark and integrity? The argument is that Olympics should be the pinnacle of that sport to warrant inclusion. Given the choice between an Ashes victory or gold medal, we're guessing leading international cricketers would go with the former.

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It is definitely worth seeing how it does, the potential for it to do well in countries like America could propel the game tremendously. Kids seeing cricket in the Olympics could also trigger them to take up the sport in the home nation countries. An influx in Wales, Scotland and Ireland would be highly welcomed. 

The decision will almost certainly divide opinion within the cricketing community. Traditionalists won't like the idea, where as modernisers will be open to try and expand the game outside it's three main markets of India, England and Australia. 

Cricket fans might not have to wait long to see if their sport will enter the Olympic frame, with the IOC holding talks in September to decide where the 'the greatest show on earth' will be held in 2024. Proposals will be sent by the ICC before that decision is made and from there, it will be a waiting game to see if Team GB will be out to claim crickets first gold medal for 124 years.  

Topics: Cricket, Opinion


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