Cricket in the Olympics?
Back in 1900, Devon and Somerset Wanderers, representing Great Britain, played the French Athletic Club Union, who mostly consisted of British embassy staff, in a cricket match in Paris. Twelve years later, this was retrospectively recognised as part of the second Olympic Games.
Cricket has not featured in the Olympics since then, though it has featured in other multi-sports events. It has been in the South Pacific Games since 1979, was played in the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur in 1998, and will make its debut at the Asian Games in 2010.
Recent events though have raised the possibility of a return to the Olympics for cricket, probably the Twenty20 format, though this won't happen until, quite appropriately, 2020 at the earliest.
Let's take a look at what this would mean for cricket below the Test level, listing the pros and cons of an Olympic cricket tournament.
Every city that hosts the Olympics has to build venues for each sport. This would mean that a potential host city in a non-test nation for an Olympic Games would have to prepare at least one, possibly more, international standard cricket ground. Whether the ground would remain for cricket use afterwards is another matter though.
A host country usually enters a team for every event, and cricket would be no exception. The IOC also helps with the development of the group of competitors for the sport, which could mean a lot of money for an underfunded associate or affiliate member of the ICC.
A cricketer can talk all he likes about how many first-class runs he's scored, how many List A wickets he has, or how many ODIs he has played, but that means nothing to a non-cricket fan. But to be able to say he (or she) has taken part in the Olympics would instantly be recognised. In addition, as most TV coverage in each participating country covers each sport their country takes part in to some extent, cricket would gain more exposure to people who may not have been aware of cricket in their country.
Cricket, despite what some people seem to think, has some of the strictest eligibility rules of international sport. The Olympics has some of the weakest. See, for example, the several Kenyans who now run for Middle East countries, or Sonia O'Sullivan being eligible to run for Ireland in the 2008 Olympics despite running for Australia in the 2006 Commonwealth Games. In short, a player who is eligible to represent a country in the Olympics may not be eligible to represent the same country in international cricket run by the ICC.
The countries that take part in the Olympics are not the same as the countries that take part in international cricket. The West Indies would have to play separately from each other, England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man would all have to compete together as one team. There are other examples. Athletes from Northern Ireland are able to chose to represent the Republic of Ireland if they so wish, but whether all Northern Irish cricketers would be comfortable with this is another matter entirely. The recent debates over the entry of a UK team for the 2012 Olympic football team should be looked at here.
Is there enough room in the international cricket calendar for another tournament? In addition, it is highly likely that the tournament would take place during the English home season, making the ECB not exactly keen on taking part. The answer here could be to copy the Olympic football tournament and play an Under-23 (with three overage players) tournament.
It could be that the increased exposure the game could receive in other countries is enough to negate these concerns, but they need to be overcome if we are to ever see cricket return to the Olympics.