Cricket in Olympics: A sporting, business bonanza for the sport
From a sporting perspective, the Olympics provides an unmatchable platform for cricket, perhaps even bigger than a World Cup.
BENGALURU: For long, cricket remained a statistical global sport sans a true global footing. A solid fan base of 2.5 billion and an ever-swelling TV revenue formed its axis to be labelled as a sport with a worldwide appeal, second only to football.
However, in reality, all of it is parked in the Commonwealth countries and even among them India alone helm around 70 percent, if not more, of those numbers.
But now, all this could change as cricket, in its T20 avatar, has made its re-entry into the Olympic fold through the 2028 edition at Los Angeles, and it is a mutually beneficial association from sporting and commercial angles.
From a sporting perspective, the Olympics provides an unmatchable platform for cricket, perhaps even bigger than a World Cup. Standing on the podium wearing an Olympic medal around the neck is an unmatched feeling for any sportsperson, as it is a reverentially warm handshake with history that dates back to 1896.
''It is an excellent piece of news for cricket to be part of the Olympics. It will certainly add to the global image of cricket,'' says Keith Joseph, president of the Caribbean Association of National Olympic Committees (CANOC), who gave a strong backing to ICC's efforts to get cricket included in the LA Olympics.
''T20 provides an excellent platform too in terms of duration and connection with younger audiences. That USA will be co-hosting the T20 World Cup in 2024 will also work as a very good precursor to cricket ahead of the Olympics,'' he points out.
However, expecting cricket to match the universal appeal of football, something the sport always cherished, just because of an Olympic appearance is quite naïve. Sample this: The ICC men's T20 ranking list features 87 nations in the men's section and 66 in the women's segment.
But the FIFA ranking list touches 207 men's teams and 186 women's outfits, the numbers reveal the vast gulf between the two sports. Of course, this is not to deny that the T20 format has helped cricket to reach some hitherto unexplored corners of Africa, Europe and Latin America.
''Yes, it is a good first step to take cricket to a global audience. As the USA is a big market and there is a strong presence of sub-continent crowd. But as of now, it has been included only in Los Angeles, and hopefully it will figure in Brisbane as well (in 2032). ''It is important because Australia is a traditional cricketing nation, and being able to play there will be a big boost to the sport. It may even open doors to cricket being a permanent Olympic sport,'' opines a veteran BCCI administrator.
However, cricket had to leap over several self-imposed hurdles to make its return to the Olympics. Both the officials and players did not want to follow several clauses, especially the one pertaining to their whereabouts that is mandatory for random dope testing, laid out by the IOC, IOA, WADA etc.
England, the champion side when cricket was last staged in the Olympics in 1900, was another country which was initially reluctant to take this plunge.
''Yes, there were some difficulties in reaching an understanding for some time over certain issues such as the whereabouts clause. However, most importantly, the BCCI and ICC and few other boards have found a common ground to take cricket to a global stage,'' said the administrator.
Beyond the sporting field, the IOA also might have thought about the crowd-pulling power of cricket, especially in the USA, a country with a large Asian diaspora.
An industry insider, whom PTI contacted, said the million eyeballs that cricket ensures will have a massive influence on the purchase of broadcasting rights of the LA Olympics.
''It is great news (cricket in Olympics) if you are a business-person. America has a large section of Asian expats, who are crazy about cricket and they will fill the stadium and of course will follow the game on TV or streaming apps. Since cricket is in LA, our estimate is that the selling price of broadcasting rights might see at least a 20-30 percent jump from the existing one, which is huge for a single edition,'' the expert said.