Fun fact: Cricket has been a part of the Summer Olympics once before in the year 1900 in just the second edition of the modern Olympic Games. The gold medal was awarded to Great Britain, a team comprising players from the Devon and Somerset Wanderers cricket club in England, and one of the two countries actively playing cricket at the time – the other being Australia.
So, it’s understandable to assume that the silver medal was won by the Aussies. However, you would be wrong. The host country, France, which is nowhere near placing a mark on the modern cricket landscape as it is just an affiliate member of the game, won the silver medal for cricket.
Sure, once you hear the real history of this ‘underdog’ story, it does seem quite underwhelming. Since the Games were very new back then, there was a lack of structure as to how the competition was organised, and so Great Britain and France were the only two teams participating in cricket at the Games. Thus, both nations were entitled to a medal no matter what. On top of that, France only participated due to the hosting power they had – even their team was made up of mostly English nationals.
The match in question between the two nations was expectedly ‘one-sided’ as Great Britain ended the match in just two days, which was relatively short for the time, as they won by a 158-run margin over France to secure the gold medal.
After this bizarre circumstance, cricket faded away from the Olympic limelight. Throughout the 20th century, it indeed grew into a global sport, with possibly the second biggest fanbase for any sport in the world, only falling behind the supposed ‘world’s game’ – football. However throughout this monumental rise in popularity across the century and even into the next one, its inclusion in the Summer Olympics was never given any thought…until today.
Historically, on the 16th of October this year, at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) session in Mumbai, cricket was finally given the green light to be part of the Summer Olympics once again from 2028 at the Los Angeles Olympics. It will have separate men’s and women’s competitions.
The introduction of cricket to the Olympics marks a significant milestone in its journey towards global recognition. This reintroduction was hindered by the extended duration of matches and limited facilities, the sport’s evolution was catalysed by the advent of shorter formats like One Day Internationals (ODI) and T20 cricket. The latter, with its fast-paced action and immense entertainment value, revolutionised the game, garnering widespread popularity, especially through franchise leagues like the Indian Premier League (IPL). This format’s efficiency and appeal make it a perfect fit for the Olympic stage, dispelling any concerns about match duration.
Furthermore, the challenge of hosting major cricket tournaments in non-Commonwealth or non-formerly colonised nations has been addressed by the sport’s expanding global footprint. The rise of T20 leagues, fuelled by enthusiastic South Asian expat communities, has facilitated the development of facilities in countries where cricket was traditionally less prevalent. This surge in popularity, coupled with the availability of resources, ensures that hosting cricket competitions is no longer a significant hurdle. In its current state, cricket stands as an immensely attractive global sport. Its inclusion in the Olympics not only solidifies its status but also positions it as a potential rival to football. This move thus signifies a watershed moment for cricket, propelling it towards the coveted status of a truly ‘global game’.
However, these were not the only factors preventing cricket from reappearing in the Olympics. In fact, as of 2014, the IOC encouraged the International Cricket Council (ICC) to apply for the inclusion of cricket in the Olympics using the T20 format in the tournament. The most important reason for cricket not being included in the Olympics was due to the political game being played by the major cricketing bodies in the world, particularly the English Cricket Board (ECB) and more importantly the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). These boards along with Cricket Australia or CA tend to hold quite a grasp over any major decision-making processes conducted by the ICC and often their stances are favoured over any of the other boards as they generate more than half the global revenue for the sport.
The ECB’s biggest concern with the inclusion of cricket was that they believed it would interrupt the national cricketing season in England and would possibly have an impact of approximately 160 million dollars which they wanted compensation for.
However, due to a change in board members and with England’s successful hosting duties and run to win the ICC Women’s World Cup in 2017, the ECB became quite open to the idea of the inclusion of cricket in the Olympics, stating “the Olympics is a fundamental opportunity for cricket – in both the men’s and women’s game – and with a global reach such a presence would expose the game positively to new markets. Competing in an Olympic Games would be a huge opportunity for players, a massive boost to developing cricket nations and give much greater exposure for the sport to a new audience.”
The BCCI, however, refused to give in, as for having cricket as part of a multi-sport event, the BCCI would have to give up its autonomous power as a sporting body and form a partnership with the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), which the BCCI aimed to consistently prevent so that their decision making is not interfered with. The other bodies, as well as the ICC, could not do much to convince the BCCI otherwise, as the BCCI and India comprise most of the stakeholders for the sport globally and their exclusion on a global stage like the Olympics would mean cricket would just not get that jumpstart it needs to succeed on that platform.
Fortunately, Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi has made major steps in the betterment and promotion of sports in India and aims to have them possibly hosting a summer Olympics by 2036, which he believes cricket should be a part of. Thus, he used his power and influence to sway the BCCI and IOA towards an agreement regarding the inclusion of cricket. With all these obstacles finally challenged and taken down, all was left for the final decision regarding its inclusion at the IOC session, which of course came out to be favourable.
In conclusion, I believe that introducing cricket to the Olympics is a brilliant idea that not only adds a popular global sport to the event but also promotes inclusivity, diversifies the sporting landscape, and engages a vast and passionate fan base around the world. It also opens up new avenues for cultural exchange and fosters a spirit of competition and camaraderie on the international stage.
Embracing cricket in the Olympics is a progressive step towards enriching the Games and broadening their appeal to a wider audience. And with the competition potentially having twelve nations participating, it would be quite entertaining to banter with fans whose country misses out on a medal by stating even France has a medal in cricket.