And so it will finally happen. After 128 years away, cricket will return to the Olympic Games, at the Los Angeles edition in 2028.
For the Olympics, having cricket on board is a chance to tap into an unexplored market. For cricket, it is a chance to ride on the Olympics brand to grow further.
Yet in the coincidence of the timing lies a delicious irony. The decision to include cricket was made at the International Olympic Committee’s session in Mumbai earlier this week just as the ICC Men’s ODI World Cup got into full flow across the country.
But the World Cup, the pinnacle of the sport, has failed to be inclusive so far.
The ongoing tournament in India is the World Cup’s 13th edition. Yet it has space for only 10 teams, a cut from the 2015 edition and the same as the number allowed to compete in 2019.
The International Cricket Council counts 106 countries as member associations, but only 12 as “full members”.
Those dozen countries are collectively allotted 88.81% of the funds under the ICC’s revenue sharing model for the 2024-27 cycle, with 38.5% of the overall revenue going to India alone. The remaining 94 countries, the associate members, for whom financial support could do wonders to help grow the game within their respective borders, are left with scraps.
And yet cricket now finds itself as a part of the one global sporting extravaganza that prides itself on inclusiveness.
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That said, cricket at Los Angeles 2028 is expected to be a six-team affair in both men’s and women’s competitions, with the United States potentially occupying one spot each as the host.
It is unclear how the qualification process will work. But one thing is for sure: the ICC will do well to adjust the rules they applied the last time the sport was played at a multisport event, the recently concluded Asian Games in Hangzhou. On that occasion, the result of a rained-out match was decided in favour of the team with the higher ranking.
Which is why, in the men’s final, Afghanistan was not even afforded a chance to make a case for themselves as India pocketed the gold medal simply because of the rain.
Surely, the International Olympic Committee, the organiser of the Olympics, will demand a better structure.
But what cannot be overlooked is how being in the Olympics will help cricket grow, especially when the ICC has done little to make the game more inclusive.
In the 13 editions of the men’s ODI World Cup so far, only 20 teams have participated, including the now defunct East Africa team that was made up of players from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia. Only 21 nations have played in the eight editions of the men’s T20 World Cup.
There are a total of 106 countries that play cricket. But at Los Angeles 2028, only six will play. It is not a given that cricket will be present for the 2032 Olympics in Brisbane.
Being on the Olympic roster is a matter of prestige. The organisers at Los Angeles hinted at the social media following of Virat Kohli and how it is greater than some of the great American sports stars.
Cricket always had the potential to be a global sport, but the bigwigs decided to dig rather than climb.
Maybe the Olympics would prove to be a springboard that will finally launch the sport in the right direction. That will make it a bit more than just a colonial game.