Cricket confirmed for Olympics: Sport's history at Games, how it made a comeback and impact on global growth

  oliver oliver   6651   16 Oct, 2023 


The International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Monday formally approved the inclusion of the 'Gentleman's Game' along with four other sports on Day 2 of its 141st Annual Session in Mumbai. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Monday formally approved the inclusion of the ‘Gentleman’s Game’ along with four other sports on Day 2 of its 141st Annual Session in Mumbai. Besides cricket, which takes place in the T20 format, baseball/softball, flag football, lacrosse and squash (sixes) are the other sports that received the IOC’s official nod a week after the ‘LA28’ organisers had proposed their inclusion. “We are thrilled that cricket’s inclusion in the LA28 Olympic Games has been confirmed by the IOC Session today,” International Cricket Council (ICC) chairman Greg Barclay said following the official announcement from the IOC on Monday. What cricket was like back then The sport couldn’t be more different from what it was in its only appearance in the 1900 Paris Games — 56 years after the first-ever recorded international cricket match between USA and Canada and 23 years since the first-ever Test was played between England and Australia. While it was supposed to make an appearance in the inaugural 1896 Athens Games, it didn’t find enough support. Four years later, it was supposed to be a four-team affair in Paris with Netherlands and Belgium competing alongside hosts France and Great Britain, only for them to stage last-minute back-outs. In the end, Great Britain — represented by the Devon and Somerset Wanderers Club — and the French Athletic Club Union that mainly comprised of staffers working at the British embassy in Paris played out a two-day contest. Britain (117 and 145/5 decl.) outperformed their French counterparts (78 and 26) for a 158-run victory. How the sport has grown since then At the Los Angeles Games 128 years later, cricket returns to the Olympic fold the second biggest sport in the world with 12 Full Members and 96 Associate Nations. Few sporting events attract as many pairs of eyeballs as does a game of cricket, especially one involving the Indian and Pakistani teams. A game that is a major part of the sporting culture in the Anglosphere and in the Caribbean and something of a religion in the Indian subcontinent. And the introduction of the T20 format in the 2000s along with the birth of the Indian Premier League (IPL) has only contributed to the sport’s revolution; through the IPL, the sport has witnessed the kind of dizzying broadcast deals and soaring player salaries and valuation of teams that has led to comparisons with NBA, Premier League and some of the other top sporting leagues in the world. The IOC thus would have been more than happy to have a sport that has been on a continuous rise in its program. The slam-bang nature of the T20 format additionally has facilitated cricket’s return to the Olympics, given the average duration of a match is three hours or less. Nita Ambani’s crucial role Reliance Foundation Founder Chairperson Nita Ambani’s involvement, however, was ultimately critical in the sport’s return to the Olympic fold. Ambani, after all, has been an IOC member since 2016 and was instrumental in getting Mumbai voted as the venue for the 141st IOC Session last year in Beijing, China, resulting in the high-profile event returning to Indian shores after four decades. Read | Revisiting Nita Ambani’s journey with IOC Ambani also happens to be the owner of the Mumbai Indians cricket team that not only is the joint-most successful IPL team with five titles but more recently won the inaugural edition of Major League Cricket (MLC), where it competed as MI New York. “For 1.4 billion Indians, cricket is not just a sport, it’s a religion! So I’m delighted that this historic resolution was passed at the 141st IOC Session taking place right here in our country in Mumbai. The inclusion of cricket in the Olympics will create deeper engagement for the Olympic Movement in newer geographies. And at the same time, provides a boost to cricket’s growing international popularity,” Ambani said on Monday after the sport was formally ratified. Given the Session is taking place in this part of the world, cricket’s return to the Games was always going to be a primary talking point. The fact that the ICC Cricket World Cup is taking place in India alongside the IOC Session in Mumbai also would have helped in getting the sport confirmed for LA28. “The fact that the IOC confirmation of our selection occurred here in Mumbai, during the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup, is truly icing on the cake. “The innings have just begun, and we can’t wait to see where this incredible journey leads,” added ICC chairman Barclay. How cricket will benefit this time around Despite having more than a hundred members, cricket has somewhat been viewed as an exclusive club to its Full Nations. Expansion, especially to the Americas, had always been on ICC’s mind in recent years and decisions such as awarding co-hosting rights to the ‘Land of Opportunity’ alongside West Indies for the 2024 T20 World Cup was among the important steps taken by the global body to take the sport to what is considered the most sought-after untapped market. MLC’s introduction too would have helped in that regard. However, it was high time cricket looked beyond ICC events and leagues and made its way into multi-sport, multi-nation events to bolster its spread. It had been part of the Asian Games in 2010, 2014 and 2023 — with India making its debut in both men’s and women’s events last month, and winning gold in both. Cricket also had returned to the Commonwealth Games last year in Birmingham after 24 years, with the Indian women’s cricket team winning silver. Its return to the Olympics not only will give existing players additional motivation, with the prospect of Olympic gold likely to be right up there with the glory of the World Cup — or the Ashes, if you’re English or Australian — it could also force other non-cricketing nations to sit up and take notice.


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