Speaking on the Emerging Cricket Podcast that aired on 31st July, Matt Featherston, the former Kent representative and now Cricket Brazil President renewed calls for the sport’s inclusion in the Olympics. Expressing frustration that cricket has yet to gain re-entry into the Games, Featherstone highlighted the increased government funding and support of rugby in countries such as Brazil on the back of Olympic inclusion to support his argument for Olympic cricket.
Featherstone was recently re-elected to the ICC Development Committee as the Global Representative for all non-voting Associate (formerly known as Affiliate) Members.
“For cricket in Associate nations, cricket becoming an Olympic sport would change the game for most of us. It is the first question that I am asked everywhere I go and talk about cricket…You talk about how big, how great the game is, it’s the second biggest game in the world; but it’s not an Olympic sport.”
Citing the example of Rugby Union, which has had its truncated Sevens format enter the Olympics in 2016, Featherstone stated that rugby’s inclusion has been a gamechanger for the sport. In the span of a few years, Rugby in Brazil has transformed itself from an amateur to a fully professional setup. In 2019, Sudamérica Rugby announced the establishment of a professional rugby league system, which consists of 6 teams with 1 representative club side each from Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Chile & Colombia. The Super Liga Americana de Rugby (SLAR) kicked off on 28th February 2020.
Although COVID-19 has played spoilsport and caused the tournament to be suspended to 2021 after just two rounds of games, the organisers remain very optimistic about its future prospects and have even left the door open for further expansion clubs. There is even speculation that the SLAR has the potential to become a future hotbed of talent and drive rugby’s popularity on a continent, where previously only Argentina had the capacity to field fully professional teams.
According to Featherstone, this development of rugby in the South American nation and beyond is testament to the importance of Olympic inclusion for a developing sport.
“What happens with the Olympics is recognition. People see it globally. Brazilians watch the Olympics. They can tell you about high jump, because the Olympic champion is Brazilian. How many high jumpers are out there compared to cricketers? They can’t tell you about cricket, because they just don’t have that notion of it.”
The 50-year-old Featherstone also mentioned that the issue of Olympic inclusion has been the first recommendation presented by Associates every year at the ICC Annual Conference since 2009.
During his tenure as ICC Head of Strategy and Support Services in 2013, Jon Long presented a report to the board, which highlighted the various benefits and drawbacks of cricket’s potential involvement in the Olympic Games. Although the report shied away from making any direct recommendations, it is clear that the benefits of Olympics inclusion such as increased Government funding, Olympic Solidarity Support and an increased profile globally outweigh the negatives.
Since then, the ICC have also carried out extensive fan surveys worldwide, which reveal that a staggering 87% of respondents, support the inclusion of T20 cricket in the Olympics.
Brazil in line for at least half a million dollars in additional funding
While Brazil has seen a healthy increase in their ICC grant in 2020 due to an improved ranking on the Associate Scorecard, these distribution funds could be increased by around 300% if cricket became an Olympic sport. An annual subsidy of $500,000 USD would be anticipated from the Brazilian Olympic Committee, according to Featherstone.
“The support that the national governing body gives to Olympic sports In Brazil is quite high. A lot of non-voting Associate members at the ICC receive between 15,000 & 50,000 USD a year. If Brazil became a member of the Olympic committee, we would be receiving around $500,000 USD a year. And the national governing body would then commit to put a team forward for the next Olympics.”
“And it’s not just the payment, there is a lot of other benefits too. We would be able to register our athletes to receive a government funding. They would be contracted by the government. And the resultant salary would be much higher than what we are able to afford.”
During the interview, Featherstone also noted that the funding would come through as soon as ICC announces official Olympic inclusion and Cricket Brazil becomes an Olympic committee member. It is not actually contingent on waiting for the Olympics cricket tournament to take place in the future; and nor is it dependent on the Brazil cricket team qualifying for the main event.
Furthermore, Featherstone states that cricket’s status as an Olympic sport would increase its profile in the country and would make it easier to attract local sponsors. So far, Cricket Brazil have obtained sponsorships from Biotreat (a water treatment company) and Guarita (a hamburger restaurant chain from São Paulo), but they are on the lookout for bigger, more nationally recognised sponsors.
As per the 2002-2018 ICC Census Report (pdf link), participation in Brazil has skyrocketed from 7,515 players in 2015 to 48,541 in 2018, an increase of 646%.
On January 9, 2020, in a landmark moment for the sport, Associação Brasileira de Cricket announced the offering of 14 professional contracts to representatives in their women’s national team.
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