POSTED: September 21st 2017

JOHN GOODBODY: IOC should consider cricket for Summer Olympic Games

A cricket match at the 2nd Royal London One Day International match between England and the West Indies at Trent Bridge © Getty Images
A cricket match at the 2nd Royal London One Day International match between England and the West Indies at Trent Bridge © Getty Images

THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative and exclusive series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) For many sports, being on the Olympic programme has enormous benefits. Many countries will only financially support those sports, which are on the Games programmes, and their inclusion also provides publicity, a status and a huge incentive for the men and women practising their favourite activity.

Even football, the world's favourite team game, is rewarded by being in the Olympics. For a large number of nations any success in the Olympic football tournament is second only to that at the FIFA World Cup.

Sports, eager to be admitted and also to remain in the Games, have had to modify their rules and structures to satisfy the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Often this has been done to great effect. Modern Pentathlon has become an even more enthralling event now that it has been concertinaed into one day, with the run and shooting combined.

Rugby Union knew that if it were to be accepted on the Games programme, it could not be the traditional 15-a-side tournament. First, it would spoil the importance of its quadrennial World Cup and also it would expose the fact that the game is only played at the highest level by a handful of countries. In the eight World Cups that have been staged, an English speaking-country has won all of them and also supplied five of the beaten finalists, the three exceptions all being France.

As Dr Jacques Rogge said to me in an interview in Lausanne in 2001, when I asked him about the chance of rugby being on the Games programme, while pointing out that he was himself a Belgian rugby international, the newly-elected IOC President replied, with engaging self-deprecation: "John, in Belgium, if you sit by the phone long enough, it will ring and ask you to play rugby for Belgium."

Knowing its shortcomings as a global sport, rugby put forward a seven-a-side tournament, which would put far less strain on numbers, and would allow smaller countries, especially the Pacific Islands, where the brand is popular, to flourish. The fact that the IOC allowed a competition for a lesser form of the game to be included is testament to Dr. Rogge's powers of persuasion rather than to any sporting justification.

For many people, cricket is similar to rugby, being predominantly played by English-speaking countries and, although even fewer nations take part to a high level, there is one crucial difference.

Two countries, India and Pakistan, where cricket is immensely popular, have huge populations. In India, in particular, cricket is the No.1 sport and it has a population of 1.3 billion people. Traditionally, five day Test Matches have been the main interest in the sport. But, in recent years, they have been superseded first by 50 over matches (completed in one day) and then by 20 over games, completed in a few hours.

Just how successful these 20 over games have been can be seen by the recent five-year television deal for the Indian Premier League (which includes foreign players) with the TV company Star India prepared to pay about $2.75 billion. That is serious money and is a 400 percent increase on the previous agreement.

As I have written before, India is the great underachiever for its size of population at the Summer Games, just one silver and one bronze medal in Rio in 2016. One reason is the country's obsession with cricket to the detriment of other activities.

As the IOC considers in future which sports to include (and remove) from the Olympic programme, it would do well to consider cricket's claims. The shortened form of cricket of 20 overs is not just a bona fide game. In reality, it is the premier brand, which is not a case that can be made out for rugby sevens.

It is not the additional TV money from cricket that should attract the IOC, although that is always welcome. Instead, the IOC should continue to try to enfranchise every part of the globe to the delights of the Olympic Games. And India should be a prime target.

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2016 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 13th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.  

****The views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sports Features Communications.

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