Last week, the MCC announced that it was making fresh moves to make Cricket an Olympic Sport. In an attempt to make the game more accessible to a global audience, the move would see Twenty20 cricket being contested at the 2024 Olympics, which are most likely going to be held in North America, a market which cricket has tried, and failed, to crack in the past. However, will this move to make cricket a truly global game trivialise the game we love?
Certainly, the idea of Cricket at the Olympics is not something that has come out of the blue. After considerable pushing from the MCC, cricket gained full Olympic recognition back in 2010, and in doing so cleared the first hurdle to becoming an Olympic Sport. It is believed that the ICC is keen on it too, given that cricket is already an established sport in many areas and would bring added popularity and gate money to the games.
Cricket’s only previous outing at the Olympics was 103 years ago at the 1900 Paris Olympics. However, it’s doubtful that we’ll see anything like it in 2024. Team GB, or the Devon and Somerset Wanderers as they were then known, and the French Athletic Club, which was largely made of British ex-pats, were the only two teams to enter. The British side prevailed, but were bizarrely awarded silver medals for their efforts. The two sides did not even know they were competing at the Olympics, as the game wasn’t recognised as an Olympic contest until 1912. The whole thing sounds shambolic, and it’s clear that the organisers felt the same way too, as Cricket had been completed forgotten about by the 1904 Olympics.
Now though, the MCC believes the time is right for cricket to make its long-awaited comeback. With other “traditional” sports, such as Golf and Rugby already gaining acceptance into the games, Cricket faces being left behind in the popularity stakes. We only have to look at the 2012 Olympics to see the effect the games can have on minority sports. Who would have ever thought that we’d see thousands packing into stadiums to watch the volleyball, for example? More and more people are getting involved in sports they never previously would have thanks to the Olympics. The powers that be hope the same affect can be had with cricket, particularly in North America.
The lucrative North American Market has long been the scourge of the cricketing bodies. Many have tried, and failed, in the past to bring the game to the U.S. Most notably and recently were the efforts of the IPL style American Premier League, which folded without a game being played, and Allen Stanford, who promised to televise his $20million “Supermatch” on U.S Cable before he was jailed. Currently, there are plans to form a new Twenty20 tournament in the states, with the help of backing from celebrities such as Russell Crowe. The success of this tournament could well determine how the ICC goes about cricket in the U.S. Certainly, now that cricket has a simplified, quicker and easier to understand format, there seems to be a real desire to finally crack that market, at almost any cost. However, that cost could include the integrity of the game.
Admittedly, the state of cricket is hardly in rude health at the moment. Yes, the demand for t20 is booming, but the first-class, traditional format of the game is being neglected. Dwindling crowd numbers are seeing cricket’s original format being increasingly marginalised, and it’s likely that cricket at the Olympics would only hurry the process along. The North American Market is such a large one that it could dominate cricket, and if the emphasis is solely on twenty20 cricket, it will be to the detriment of the game. It’s going to be difficult for the first-class game to attract any sort of attention if there is the IPL, a similar American version and a domestic T20 competition. This sort of move may well be the tipping point that destroys the original format of the game.
Twenty20 is a fun format and a great way to bring casual fans through the gates. It definitely has a place and future in cricket. However, if should not be the key format of the sport. The MCC, and the ICC for that matter, must make sure that they protect the greatest form of the game, even if that means sacrificing some cash along the way.
It’s understandable that they want to try and break those untapped markets. There is something for everyone to enjoy in cricket and I can’t help but think that those who will don’ have access are missing out. However, what the cricketing bodies need to make clear to these markets is that there are traditions and foundations that need to be upheld if they want to fully embrace the game, and that the original format of the game is here to stay. Only then, will the Olympics be an acceptable avenue to pursue