Explore the historic inclusion of cricket in the Olympics and its global impact. Learn how this decision affects cricket’s popularity and the massive viewership potential it unlocks. Discover the significance of T20 cricket and the role it plays in India’s growing global influence.
In August 1900, a historic cricket match took place at the Vélodrome de Vincennes in Paris, making it the first and, so far, the only Olympic cricket match in history. The two competing teams were Great Britain and France, though they were not true national sides. The English team was represented by the Devon and Somerset Wanderers club, which was touring France at the time, while the French team mainly comprised English expatriates who played for the All Paris Club. This unique two-day encounter resulted in the English team dominating the French, who could only manage to score 104 runs across both their innings.
The intriguing aspect of this early Olympic cricket match lies in the fact that despite their victory, Great Britain was awarded silver medals, while the French received bronze. This curious outcome sheds light on how the International Olympic Committee (IOC) perceived the sport of cricket during that era.
Fast forward 123 years to the present, and a momentous decision was made during an IOC session in Mumbai. Almost unanimously, approximately 90 IOC members voted in favor of introducing five new sports, including men’s and women’s cricket, to the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics. This decision has far-reaching implications, especially for the Indian subcontinent, home to nearly two billion people, encompassing India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. For this cricket-loving region, the inclusion of cricket in the Olympics represents an opportunity to vie for not just one but two Olympic medals. The heightened interest in Olympic cricket is expected to significantly boost viewership and lead to more lucrative media deals for the IOC.
The IOC continually seeks ways to expand its core viewership by introducing sports that appeal to a broader audience. This strategy involves adding sports that combine athletic performance and entertainment, such as rhythmic gymnastics, and innovative events like ‘Breaking.’
In the past, the IOC successfully campaigned to include professional basketball players from the NBA in the Olympics, which led to record-breaking viewership, as exemplified by the iconic US ‘Dream Team’ in 1992. Even football, initially an amateur sport in the Olympics, was transformed into a U-23 event, and in 1996, the inclusion of three senior footballers in the U-23 teams, including stars like Messi and Neymar, elevated football’s status as one of the most-watched Olympic sports. Cricket’s inclusion in the Olympics opens up a massive market and adds a significant dimension to the quadrennial event.
For the International Cricket Council (ICC), Olympic inclusion aligns with the sport’s growing popularity, a trend that began in 2005. In February of that year, the first men’s T20 international between Australia and New Zealand took place at Eden Park, Auckland.
This format initially received less serious attention from players, with many adopting retro moustaches and beards, and even an umpire showing a red card, reminiscent of a football match when Glenn McGrath pretended to bowl an underarm delivery. Ricky Ponting, the Australian captain for that match, famously remarked that T20 was challenging to take seriously.
However, T20 cricket’s shorter format, reducing playing time to less than four hours, offered a more compact product that could be enjoyed by a global audience. The Indian Premier League (IPL), which commenced in 2008, further propelled the popularity of T20 cricket to new heights, even providing a post-playing career for former cricketers like Ricky Ponting, who now serves as the head coach of an IPL franchise.
Notably, T20 cricket’s appeal was not limited to a select group of Test and One-Day International (ODI) playing countries but extended to diverse nations, including Papua New Guinea, Thailand, and Brazil. The Olympic Charter specifies that for a sport to be included in the Olympics, it must be widely practiced by men in at least 75 countries across four continents and by women in no fewer than 40 countries spanning three continents. ODI and Test cricket would have struggled to meet these criteria.
In 2018, the Sony Picture Network secured the broadcasting rights for the Tokyo Olympics in India for a modest sum of $12 million. However, by 2028, this figure is expected to increase substantially, possibly tenfold. Access to a market as vast as India, poised to become the world’s third-largest economy, has likely been a long-standing aspiration for the IOC.
The significance of cricket’s inclusion in the Los Angeles Olympics was underscored by IOC President Thomas Bach’s participation in a Mumbai event on October 9, just four days before the unanimous vote. The decision to include cricket had already been made, making the voting process a mere formality.
Despite the general celebration, there are a couple of dissenting notes. With only six teams participating in both the men’s and women’s events, Olympic cricket is set to be even more exclusive than the Cricket World Cup, which has faced criticism for its lack of inclusivity. Some top cricketing nations are likely to miss out on the Olympics. Furthermore, the use of a single venue and limited pitches may pose challenges for the first-ever Olympic cricket tournament. Nonetheless, the rise
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