South Africa won the Commonwealth Games in 1998 © Getty Images
The International Cricket Council (ICC) recently turned down a proposal to feature the sport at the Commonwealth Games 2018. Cricket has featured at multilateral events only three times in the past, and perhaps it is time to expose the game to a larger audience using the Olympics or the Commonwealth Games. Nishad Pai Vaidya says it is an idea worth exploring, but administrative will is missing.
Why is there a resistance to include cricket at the Commonwealth Games or the Olympics? Though the International Olympic Committee (IOC) recognizes cricket, the sport hasn’t featured at the mega-event for over 100 years. Since the only Olympic cricket match — that took place in 1900 — cricket has only featured in multilateral games twice. In 1998 it was a part of the Commonwealth Games in Malaysia, and 12 years down the line, it was a part of the Asian Games in Guangzhou, China. Though the ICC wishes for the globalization of the sport, it is reluctant to stage it at the Olympics or the Commonwealth Games.
One may understand the concerns of the boards when it comes to scheduling. With the mushrooming of various T20 leagues around the world (and the Champions League T20), and the already heavy international schedule in place, why would they want to squeeze in something extra? It would tire out the players and wouldn’t help them in the long-run. Giving importance to the Future Tours Programme is important as there are Test matches in place and they have to go on. The players won’t give up the T20 lure at the same time. So, it is tough to get another event in. In 1998, India split their main squad, sending one to Canada for the Sahara Cup and another to Malaysia for the Commonwealth Games, causing a lot of confusion.
However, by missing out on an event like the Olympics or the Commonwealth Games, the ICC may be letting go of an opportunity to expose the sport to a bigger audience. During an event of that magnitude, any sport is watched with keen interest as each medal counts in the ultimate tally. This writer had attended the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, and it was heartening to see a plethora of people attend sports that aren’t mainstream to India. In doing so, they educated themselves about the sport, learnt the rules and realized their importance. It is a small step in a long road, but it is at least a move to advance.
Football teams also send in their squads for the Olympics, even if it is clashing with their seasons. They send in teams of lesser strength. It is an under-23 squad with only three senior players allowed. Cricket can perhaps do the same. The Asian Games 2010 saw a full strength team only from Afghanistan and the other associate nations. Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan sent in their A-teams. India did not send one at all. This is a much better way to go about it than what India did in 1998 for the Commonwealth Games. The Asian Games 2014 too will host cricket, and Sri Lanka has already named an A-squad for it.
Mustafa Kamal, the ICC President did say that they don’t want to dilute cricket by sending in weaker teams to such events. That may be an argument of note, but somewhere cricket has to globalise and use such opportunities to spread its wings. But, his argument on the sport taking too long isn’t acceptable. “Cricket takes time. Something like a 100m run takes 9 seconds. I might need 11 seconds, so you tell me how you can send so many countries and play such a lengthy game in the Olympics?” Kamal said. You are living in the age of T20 cricket, surely that can be accommodated even if it is longer than other sports. There will be hurdles, but you need the will to overcome them.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_45)