Over the last few years cricket’s distant Olympic dream has steadily been gathering pace.
Hope has been raised that the sport could be included in the 2028 Los Angeles games. However, the 2032 competition, which appears set to be held in Brisbane, looks far more realistic a target, and Cricket Australia have already expressed their interest in making Australia’s national sport a feature at the games.
On the face of things having cricket back at the world’s biggest sporting event would be brilliant for the game.
It would be the perfect opportunity for cricket to become a truly global sport and finally break free from its colonial roots.
Inclusion at the Olympics could create a huge interest in cricket from economic superpowers such as China and the US, which could be potentially lucrative for the sport.
The Olympics has never been able to quite capture the hearts and minds of the 1.7 billion people in the cricket-obsessed Indian subcontinent, but including cricket at the games could help the IOC truly unlock what is an absolutely gigantic viewing market.
I’ve often wondered that if kitesurfing, breakdancing and speed climbing are going to be showcased at the Olympics, then shouldn’t the world’s second most popular sport?
But despite the advantages – and there are many – I don’t believe cricket deserves to become an Olympic sport.
The Olympics should be the pinnacle of any sport included, not just a way for them to try to expand beyond their traditional market. Olympic glory should be the holy grail of any athlete’s career, not just another medal to stuff away in the cabinet.
Cricket is already struggling to decide what its pinnacle is. Is it the ODI World Cup, the World T20 or the World Test Championship? For many traditionalists it’s cricket’s oldest rivalry, the Ashes. For many younger fans it might even be the IPL.
One thing’s for sure: it’s certainly never going to be the Olympics.
Would Ben Stokes really swap his cricket World Cup medal for Olympic gold? Would Steve Smith even consider exchanging any of his Ashes wins for Olympic glory?
If the Olympics were to clash with the IPL, I would bet that most of the world’s elite cricketers would go and collect their million-dollar paycheques to play for a franchise that probably means almost nothing to them in a trumped-up tournament – and they wouldn’t even give a second thought to representing their own nations on the world’s greatest sporting stage.
If most of the world’s best players aren’t present at the games, then cricket may struggle to get existing fans to watch, let alone attract new ones.
A sport doesn’t deserve Olympic status if the players and the governing bodies aren’t going to take it seriously and instead treat it as just some second-rate tournament. To any track or field athlete the Olympics is the culmination of four long years of hard work and a gold medal the jewel in their sporting crown. It wouldn’t mean even a fraction of that to cricketers.
The Olympics brings the world together around global sports, and cricket hardly fits that definition in my view.
Although it may be the world’s second most popular on paper, cricket is played consistently at the highest level by only nine countries, and only four of those – Australia, England, India and New Zealand – aren’t plagued by financial issues and are truly competitive. And in New Zealand cricket’s popularity is eclipsed by rugby, while in England cricket is atrophying.
Finally, if cricket were to be played at the games, the format would most likely be cricket’s latest bastardisation, T10, as even a T20 match, which typically lasts three or four hours, is probably a bit too long for the hectic Olympic schedule. T10 cricket is little more than a mindless slogfest, with almost nothing in it for the bowlers and with so little of the strategy and everything else that makes cricket the sport it is.
Even a cricket fan with the attention span of a gnat could tell you that T10 is a long, long way from being the peak format of cricket. Playing the farce that is T10 cricket at the games would hardly be showcasing the sport at its best.
So as much as I’d love to see cricket at the games, I hope cricket never becomes an Olympic sport. The Olympics isn’t there to be taken advantage of by sports for their own ends; they’re meant to be the apex for the sports played, and for cricket that simply wouldn’t be the case.
Having sports such as cricket, football and basketball in the Olympics, where triumph at the games means very little to players and fans, does nothing but degrade the world’s greatest sporting event.