ICC: India key to cricket’s inclusion in Olympic Games

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The ICC headquarters in Dubai Sport City. Image Credit: Gulf News archive

The International Cricket Council (ICC) has cited the Indian subcontinent’s enormous cricket reach, 92 per cent of the one billion global cricket audience, in its push for the sport’s inclusion in the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles (LA28).

The ICC has underlined that if LA28 embraced cricket it would “provide the Olympic movement unrivalled opportunity to drive fan engagement” in the Indian subcontinent, a region where cricket followers outnumber those of any other sport.

To further stress cricket’s wide reach, it pointed out that the 2019 World Cup, held in England, attracted 545 million fans.

An ICC document prepared on the proposal to inclusion in LA28, a copy of which is available with IANS, has thrown up some more remarkable viewership numbers about the 2019 World Cup: 4.6 billion video views; 3.5 billion minutes watched across Facebook and YouTube; 31 million #CWC10 tweets and; 14 million new followers of cricket.

The ICC has compared these figures with those of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

“Rio 2016 attracted 191 million viewers in India. ICC World Cup 2019 attracted 545 million,” it has said.

The ICC’s LA28 proposal received a big boost last month when the Indian cricket board agreed to send its men’s and women’s teams to the 2028 Olympics, if cricket is included. Greats like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, and former Australia captain Ricky Ponting have backed the ICC proposal.

By way of some more mind boggling facts, the ICC has cited its young cricket audience, compared to the older one that watched the 2016 Olympics.

“Average age of a viewer of Rio 2016 was 53; 32 per cent of viewers of the 2019 50-over World Cup in England were aged between 18-32 years; and, the average age of a cricket fan is 34 years,” the ICC pointed out.

It also emphasised that 39 per cent of cricket fans are females.

If included in LA28, cricket development in the US could be accelerated while a, American team could be included as a competing team, the ICC has said. It also pointed out 87 per cent of fans want to see T20 cricket in the Olympics.

The ICC is confident that cricket’s inclusion in the Olympics would attract partners from new markets and bring about financial sustainability to its member countries. The world governing body said that the win-win cricket-Olympics combination would diversify its member countries’ income and reduce their reliance on the ICC for income.

At present, the ICC funds its associate members to develop the sport in their countries.

The ICC conducted a survey among its 92 associate member countries, and a large majority of them said that they would receive annual financial support, probably from their governments, if cricket became a permanent Olympic sport.

According to the ICC, the survey result showed that 74 per cent of its members said that they would receive annual financial support — probably from their governments, if cricket were included in LA28, and 89 per cent believed that they would receive annual financial support if cricket became a permanent Olympic sport.

The ICC estimated that $13 million additional total funding could come to associate members if cricket was included in LA28, and that 84 per cent of its members (54 per cent currently) would benefit from non-financial support if cricket were an Olympic sport.

The ICC has 104 members, comprising 12 full and 92 associate members.

It has also said that if the men’s and women’s T20 competition was included as a medal sport in LA28, it would be hugely rewarding — financially and in terms of viewership.

The world cricket body emphasised that cricket would offer the Olympics a vibrant platform for growth outside of the traditional Olympic strongholds.

“Cricket can provide the Olympic movement with an unrivalled opportunity to drive fan engagement across the Asian subcontinent (read, mainly India),” says the ICC.

“The Olympics can provide cricket with an unrivalled opportunity to supercharge global growth beyond its traditional heartlands, particularly in the US, Europe, and China.”

According to the ICC proposal, the T20 tournament at LA28 would run from July 21-August 6, with the men’s and women’s competitions spanning nine days each. Eight teams and 16 matches in each event would be played on turf/hybrid pitches at two venues.

However, cricket faces a tough test to be included in LA28. Since cricket is presently not part of the Olympic programme, the Los Angeles Local Organising Committee (LOC) will have to propose it as an “additional sport”.

This is the only option available for cricket, as there is no vacancy for any sport to be included at the Tokyo 2020 and at the Paris 2024 Olympics.

The process for inclusion of sports in LA28 begins in mid-2022. The International Olympic Committee will take a decision on the LOC’s proposals for inclusion of sports in mid-2023.

Cricket is likely to face competition with baseball and softball, which are hugely popular in the US.

On the downside, no suitable cricket venue exists in Los Angeles at present to be included in the proposal, said the ICC. It, however, pointed out the USA Cricket has plans to build at least one high-quality venue in Los Angeles.

Besides the infrastructure, the ICC would need hectic lobbying and a compelling campaign to push its proposal through.

The last time cricket was played outside its traditional boundaries was at the 1998 Commonwealth Games (CWG) in Kuala Lumpur. India sent a second string team, led by Ajay Jadeja, as the CWG clashed with cricket’s Sahara Cup in Toronto. The Indian team for CWG, however, comprised stalwarts Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble, and VVS Laxman, among others.

Now, a women’s T20 competition at the 2022 CWG in Birmingham, England, with eight teams competing, has been confirmed.

At the Olympics, the only time cricket was played was 121 years ago, in 1900, when a motley group of players competed under the banner of England and France. England won the gold medal and France the silver.