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Does ICC’s Olympic Dream Rest on Benefitting from Indian Cricket? BCCI Allowing Dilution of Property Not In India’s Interests

There’s a reason why FIFA has strict guidelines for the Olympics. Football’s world governing body maintains that the sport’s Olympic participation shall feature players at the Under-23 level and only three players in the squad can be over 23.

That’s because FIFA is absolutely sure that it does not want to dilute its own events – mainly the once-in-four-years FIFA World Cup – by allowing any other property to field top footballers and lose out on exclusivity.

That’s precisely what the International Cricket Council (ICC) is not doing. Instead, cricket’s world governing body – the cricket equivalent of FIFA – wants countries to participate in the Olympics, starting with the 2028 edition in Los Angeles, and field their top teams for the event.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC), meanwhile, is busy figuring out which sport can bring in greater financial rewards from the territories where it is popular, the basis on which a call can be taken to include it as an Olympic event.

Cricket Not to be Included to the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics

Right now, Cricket is in competition with break dance, lacrosse, and six other sports.

The Times UK recently reported that the IOC was expecting the value of its rights in India – for cricket in the Olympics – to go up from about $20 million (£16 million) for Paris 2024 to $200 million (£160 million) for LA.

Michael Payne, a former marketing and broadcast rights director, was quoted in the Times UK as saying: “The one region of the world where the Olympics has underperformed is India and Pakistan and putting cricket on the programme would be a game-changer”.

There are those in the industry who are calling this a ‘pipe dream’. At the moment, neither has the IOC nor the ICC settled on the following: a) which teams will participate, b) what will be the timing of the matches, c) which format the sport will be played in.

The 2028 Olympic Games are in Los Angeles, 12 hours and 30 minutes behind the Indian subcontinent prime time, for which they’re designing the property and expecting it to sell at US$200m. The 2032 Olympic Games is in Brisbane, four hours and 30 minutes ahead of India’s sub-continent prime time, for which they will have to design the property and expect it to sell at a similar value, should Los Angeles succeed in its attempt in the first place.

While a football match takes 90 minutes to get over, a T20 match, at a minimum takes 210 minutes (three and half hours) – a time slot that LA Games will have to take under consideration while considering the time difference.

While all of this is being considered, the more important part of the narrative revolves around Indian cricket and its mandatory participation, around which this ‘pipe dream’ is being manufactured.

Decision Regarding Addition of Cricket in the Olympics to be Taken by the IOC on September 15-16 in Mumbai

“The ICC wants to use the popularity of Indian cricket and sell an idea to the IOC, promising them the lure of revenues from the sub-continent. The BCCI, as it is, helps ICC sustain 90% of the world cricket revenues singlehandedly and the sale of recent ICC media rights – the India territory to be specific – is a case in point,” say those tracking developments.

“Now, ICC wants the BCCI to further dilute its property and allow the Indian cricket team’s participation in the Olympics just because some executive in the cricket industry has marketed it to the IOC? And the BCCI wants to allow it at the cost of losing ground? Talk about a lack of vision,” industry executives add.

Not just LA 2028, the ICC is, in fact, using the popularity of Indian cricket to market the game in the west (USA) outside of the Olympic narrative. The firm idea that the USA should host World Cup matches next year despite a lack of infrastructure in the country, and no First Class set-up is a case in point.

There are those who believe even if cricket has to be added to the Olympics as a one-off ceremonial event, it should either happen at the Under-19 level or if and when the Indian sub-continent plays host to the Summer Olympics in the future.

“Why BCCI wants to dilute its own property to suit somebody else’s narrative, by allowing a participation that will neither benefit the sport nor benefit its member countries financially is a question nobody wants to answer. To make matters worse, cricket has to compete with break dance and lacrosse among other events to make it to LA,” point out sources.

Is there space in the calendar?

The last five Summer Games – Athens, Beijing, London, Rio and Tokyo – were played between the months of July and August. The Paris Games 2024 will be played from July end to the second week of August and the LA Games 2028 are scheduled to take place from July 14 to July 30.

By no means this is a break in the international cricket calendar as all top nations play some bilateral series or the other. Team India was in the West Indies this year during that window, toured England last year, and simultaneously fielded two teams for series in Sri Lanka (ODIs and T20Is) and England (Tests) in 2021.

Not just for India, there is no breathing space in the international calendar for any team at the moment. Even when there are, the various T20 leagues around the circuit are squeezed. The classic example of the traffic jam in the international calendar is the inaugural edition of the South Africa T20 which took an eight-day break for the ODI series against England.

For top sides to release top players for the Olympics, it will either come at the cost of some international cricket or there will be some compromise in squad quality. Like we are experiencing for the Asian Games where top participating nations, who are also playing the ODI World Cup, have fielded second-string sides.

How will teams be decided?

The other big question is how will ICC and IOC decide which country fields its team for cricket. During the 2022 Commonwealth Games, which witnessed a return of sorts for cricket, the host nation – England – and six highest-ranked sides were direct qualifiers. Another spot was awarded to the country which won the Commonwealth Games Qualifier.

If cricket makes the LA 2028 cut, will it guarantee a spot for hosts USA’s cricket team too?

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