Speaking with Emerging Cricket in a long form interview recently, ICC Head of Global Development William Glenwright stated that while Olympics inclusion is not an immediate priority for cricket’s global governing body, the matter has not been taken off the ICC discussion table completely.
Questioned by Tim Cutler, Nick Skinner and Daniel Beswick, Glenwright acknowledged the additional benefits that Olympics inclusion would bring for a plethora of associate cricket members such as increased Government funding, Olympic Solidarity support and a bigger global profile.
“Inclusion in the Olympics games provides all sorts of benefits, both for the awareness and accessibility of the sport, right through to the direct benefits to members.”
“It provides opportunities for more international competition and in many cases, it unlocks government and private sector funding. So, the Olympics remains very much a long-term ambition for the sport.”
Despite this, in news sure to perhaps dishearten cricket fans, Glenwright also confirmed that the ICC board hasn’t had a concrete Olympics discussion over the course of 2019. Instead, he specified that the development team are having ongoing talks with relevant regional authorities to ensure that cricket gets incorporated into multi-sport games, such as the Asian or Pan-American games.
“We are in discussion with the 2026 Asian Games in Nagoya, around cricket’s inclusion there.”
“We are on the Pacific Games and we are in discussions with both the All-Africa Games and the Pan American Games to get cricket included, and as you know, we are on the woman’s program for the 2022 Commonwealth Games.”
Glenwright justified this approach by saying that similarly to the Olympics, inclusion in multi sports games (both regional and sub-regional) can also derive benefits for ICC members.
“The Olympics is the game-changer, but it’s not just the Olympics that can drive those benefits for our members. Cricket’s inclusion in the Asian Games for 2022 is brilliant for our Asian members, many of whom are able to get access to government funding or government facilities and programs as a result of that.”
Hosting Olympics is Costly
While Olympics is undoubtedly a prestigious event and one of the most watched sporting events globally, it does come with some downsides. Hosting the Olympics puts enormous pressure on the home nation’s infrastructure and budgets.
According to a 2016 study conducted jointly by Oxford University and SAID Business School, all Olympics events from 1960 to 2016 have without exception suffered from cost blowouts, with the average cost overrun sitting at 156% in real terms. It demonstrates that even with modern efficiency initiatives, hosting an Olympics remains a costly proposition for prospective home nations. The Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympics experienced a 51% cost overrun.
This means that cricket’s inclusion in Olympics is not a straightforward matter. As per Glenwright, it is being complicated by the Olympic committee’s current focus on reducing costs in order make it more affordable for host nations.
“There is a challenge for us in that the Olympics 2032 agenda is focused on reducing the cost of hosting the games, both for the Olympic movement and for the members, and that is focused around capping the number of participants as well as reducing the infrastructure cost of hosting the games.”
“Of course, cricket is a team sport and so there is a large participant footprint. It would require multiple venues if a T20 or 50 over competition were to be played in the Olympics. Therefore, there is a lot of work that we need to do in order to figure out what Olympics inclusion would look like for us as a sport.”
Response from Boards
Glenwright’s comments may dishearten those who have been advocating earnestly for cricket’s immediate inclusion into the Olympics, despite the complications with infrastructure and costs.
Cricket Russia responded negatively on Twitter, declaring that their job of growing the game in non-traditional markets becomes harder, without the legitimacy of Olympic inclusion.
Federazione Cricket Italiana President Fabio Marabini echoed similar sentiments in his statements to Emerging Cricket.
“Although cricket has huge potential in Italy, we are still seen as a niche sport; primarily due to cricket not being present at the Olympics. We lack due recognition from all the public administrations, regarding the development of facilities.”
Marabini added that this does not have to be the case, if cricket gets officially recognised as an Olympic sport.
“To us, Olympics inclusion would mean that we have good visibility for cricket. It would mean more sponsors and higher amounts for TV rights. We would receive an additional 1.5 to 2.5 million Euros from the government. If cricket reaches a greater level of professionalism in Europe, it could be priceless in terms of money, even for the Full Members and the ICC.”
Speaking with Emerging Cricket, Netherlands coach Ryan Campbell expressed his firm belief that the game of cricket belongs at the Olympics and that the time for action is now, not later.
“We have seen tennis rejoin the Olympics as well as golf, yet the major tournaments for those sports have not lost in lustre. The time has come for us to join hands with other sports and join the Olympic movement.”
Campbell further re-iterated that Olympics inclusion would create mainstream media coverage for cricket in Netherlands, something that the sport is desperately crying out for.
“At the moment, we are always in a battle to qualify for World Cups, yet this doesn’t guarantee us TV coverage. The Olympics would enable us to showcase our sport to future generations of Dutch kids.”
USA Cricket Board Member and ACE Relations Committee Chairman Suraj Viswanathan confirmed that they are actually counting on Olympics inclusion as soon as possible to drive the growth of cricket in the country. In a statement to Emerging Cricket, Viswanathan stated:
“USAC fully supports all attempts to seek cricket’s inclusion in the Olympic Games. We strongly believe that cricket’s inclusion in the Los Angeles 2028 Games could have a very positive effect on the growth of the sport in USA. As such, we will continue to liaise closely with the ICC to support such efforts in any way we can.”
Previously, Associação Brasileira de Cricket President Matt Featherstone had also expressed frustration with cricket’s continuing exclusion from the Olympics.
Speaking on the Emerging Cricket Podcast in July 2020, Featherston underlined the increased government funding and direct support that Rugby Union has received in Brazil, on the back of Olympics inclusion. This has revolutionised the sport in South America, culminating in the formation of a professional Rugby Union competition with teams from Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Chile and Colombia.
“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 the big, how great the game is, it’s the second biggest game in the world, but it’s not an Olympic sport.”
As the Global Representative for all non-voting Associate (formerly known as Affiliate) Members in the ICC Development Committee, Featherstone further stated that the issue of Olympic inclusion has been the first recommendation presented by Associates every year at the ICC Annual Conference since 2009.
“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.”
It is important to note that the government funding would come through as soon as ICC announces official Olympic inclusion and the respective Associate boards become Olympic committee members. It is not contingent on waiting for the Olympics cricket tournament to take place in the future, nor is it dependent on that particular associate team qualifying for the main event.
Olympics inclusion also opens up other avenues, one of which is through Blind Cricket and Paralympic Games. However, the International Paralympic Committee is generally reluctant to feature sports that don’t have an Olympic equivalent.
Furthermore, the results of global fan surveys conducted by ICC in 2018, reveal that a an overwhelming 87% of respondents support the inclusion of T20 cricket in the Olympics.
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