As an American cricket fan, I get asked the same questions over and over again by my fellow Americans who don’t follow the game: do they really stop for tea in the middle of the game? Are the games really five days how does that even work? What’s the deal with the sweaters? What will it take to make it work in America? Why isn’t cricket in the Olympics?
Those last two go hand in hand. For cricket entering the Olympics is one way to make it work in America, though it’s by no means a guarantee. But the Olympic question is an important one, because in answering it, you are able to teach people a lot about the game, and the people who run it.
So why isn’t cricket in the Olympics? First of all, it was, once, in 1900. Great Britain and France were the only two entrants and Great Britain won the gold. It was supposed to be at the 1904 games in St. Louis but it was scrapped due to lack of interest. And it hasn’t been back since.
Why? Especially now with the wildly popular Twenty20 format? A bombastic short format where the games last only three hours instead of an entire day or multiple days? The answer is two fold. The first half of it is simple logistics: Ireland, England and the West Indies compete as individual Test nations in cricket, but not in the Olympics. This is a hurdle, but not a tall one, as other sports — soccer and rugby — have overcome it without much of an issue.
The second half is answered with two words: England, and India. The England Cricket Board (ECB) and the Bureau of Cricket Control India (BCCI) are without any shadow of a doubt the two most powerful boards in world cricket, and they have long been opposed to cricket in the Olympics. Why? Money, silly! Sending players to the Olympics would make the nations miss out on a Test series or T20 league or some other money making machine that lines their coffers directly, instead of the Olympics which would be a high tide that would raise all boats. The Olympics are corrupt, but cricket is even more corrupt, and not only is the above a symptom of that disease, that greed which fuels so many decisions with regard to the future, globalisation of the game via the Olympics — something England and India preach but don’t really believe in — would shine a light on that corruption, and no one wields a brighter light these days than the International Olympic Committee.
So, yeah, simple: money. Right now India and England are making it hand over fist, so why would they want to change anything? Other than those changes which make the game more insular and more profitable?
But, that said, they are softening. There is talk of cricket at the 2024 games in Paris, as the host country’s Olympic committee has until after the 2020 games to suggest sports to the IOC at their board meeting.
If it does happen, there are logistical challenges. Not very many cities have an ICC approved cricket stadium. So where they would play is the first challenge. The second is who the they is, as in how would teams qualify for the event in the first place? And the third challenge is who plays for the teams that do end up qualifying? If the ICC has learned anything from baseball it’s that you need to put the best product possible on the field if the Olympics are going to have a strong and lasting positive impact on the global popularity of the game. Pros playing Olympic basketball changed that game forever, and really put it on the map internationally. But baseball’s experiment suffered as the national teams featured players who were far from the best the world had to offer. (Some might argue that baseball in the Olympics had the unfortunate role of having to compete with the game’s marquee product, Major League Baseball. And that’s valid. But that can be overcome, just as they did with hockey and the NHL. Shut the league down for a few weeks and give the fans of the game a real showboat of a tournament.)
And so, it will happen, probably. If India and England see a way to make money, they will vote for it, and then the other member nations will vote for it, too, more than likely unanimously, as national boards in places like Europe and South America — places where cricket isn’t popular — would see huge influxes of cash. So look for it in 2024, and then cross your fingers and hope they pull it off without looking like, well, without looking like what Olympic cricket has the real potential to end up looking like: boring nonsense played by mercenaries for corrupt plutocrats.
So there’s your answer, sports fans. My opinion? Keep it out. Find another way to grow the game outside the Olympics. Mainly because getting into bed with the IOC could somehow make the game even more corrupt. But also because I’m a purist and think they should kick all team sports out of the Games. Individual sports only.
And no breakdancing either.