ECB. BCCI accept benefits of global exposure after initial resistance to Olympic involvement
Cricket’s return to the Olympics is moving closer, with the possibility that it could do so in the T10 format. That has emerged in the wake of the ICC’s scheduling meetings for a new calendar from 2023 onwards, which took place last week, with the BCCI and ECB, two key boards in any push, showing renewed commitment to exploring ways to make it happen.
Both the ECB and the BCCI have historically had reservations about the sport’s involvement in the tournament. However, Tom Harrison, the ECB’s chief executive, is understood to have raised the subject in last week’s meetings of the ICC’s chief executives’ committee, which was centred on agreeing the international calendar from 2023 to 2031. The idea was generally well received.
The ICC meeting was followed by a meeting of the Apex Council of the BCCI, which also gave conditional support to cricket’s inclusion in the Games. The BCCI have long been unconvinced by their need for involvement in the Olympics and were reluctant to cede any authority of the sport to the Indian Olympic Association. At this stage, they appear confident their power will not be diluted. The BCCI have also confirmed they will send a women’s team to the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2022.
While the Olympic format has yet to be decided – the chief executives’ committee meets again in a couple of weeks and are likely to set up a working party to explore the options – there is growing support for the T10 version.
With the entire tournament needing to be squeezed into a window of around 10 days, and a desire to use the event to spread the growth of the game globally, the shorter format would allow more teams to compete and necessitate the use of fewer pitches. A T10 game typically takes around 90 minutes. One CEO involved in the meeting suggested it was “inevitable” the ECB would suggest using the 100-ball format. Another insisted T20 remained the favoured format, arguing that promoting a fourth international format could dilute the long-term value of T20 leagues.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) requires any sport competing within the Games to use a format recognised at a global level and while there have been no ICC-organised global T10 events, the ICC does sanction the playing of the Abu Dhabi T10 (that applies to that specific tournament and not the format as such).
That means the Olympics decision could have repercussions for the ‘extra’ event in the global cycle, which has already been approved by the ICC board. Although the working assumption, at present, is that the event would be an ODI competition – a return of the Champions Trophy in essence if not name – there are those who feel it should be a T10 competition which leads to Olympics qualification.
The earliest possible date for cricket’s inclusion in the Games would be the LA Olympics in 2028, but the 2032 Olympics, likely to be staged in Brisbane, might be a more realistic target.
“We want to help grow the game globally and believe cricket’s inclusion within the Olympic Games would provide a wonderful opportunity to showcase our sport domestically and take it to new audiences around the world,” an ECB spokesperson said. “The ECB will enthusiastically support efforts to secure this outcome.”
The ECB’s long-term reservations about the Games have been based around the financial consequences of involvement. With the Games likely to be held during the English season, their ability to host lucrative bilateral tournaments revenue could be compromised. They may also have an issue with their scheduling of The Hundred; the LA Olympics is scheduled to run from July 21 to August 6. This year’s Hundred tournament runs from July 22 to August 21. There is also concern about the possibility of two global events in a single year and the impact that could have on T20 leagues.
There has been increasing appreciation of the Games’ ability to grow the sport globally, however, leading the ECB to conclude that the short-term hit would be off-set by the long-term benefits. It is also thought the sport’s inclusion would accelerate the development of the women’s game and convince more nations to invest in their disability teams.
As well as bringing the sport to a huge TV audience around the world, cricket’s inclusion in the Olympics would open up avenues of funding to nearly all ICC nations from their respective governments.
From the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) perspective, cricket’s inclusion in the Games would strengthen their relevance in south Asia; an area in which they have historically struggled to gain the audience to which they are accustomed elsewhere.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo