By Gulu Ezekiel
A twist or two in the tale may derail the campaign – led mainly by Australian cricketers – to push for cricket to be included in the 2020 Olympics.
The decision as to who will host the 2020 Games as well as the final list of disciplines to be staged there will be taken only in 2013. The Indian Olympic Association has already hinted it may put in a hosting bid and this could give cricket’s case a boost.
The International Cricket Council on its part has indicated that it is too early at this stage to comment on the campaign.
The first step though was taken in December 2007 when the International Olympic Committee granted recognition to cricket which was a part of the Olympics for the first and only time at Paris in 1900. That was a one-off match between England (represented by a club side touring France at the time) and France (actually made up of Englishmen settled in Paris) and won by the English.
But here is the twist. If cricket does indeed make it to the 2020 Olympics in the Twenty20 format, then the matches will almost certainly not receive official international status from the ICC, even if it its member nations decide to back the bid. The precedent for this has already been set.
Cricket (50-overs) was included in the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur and will also be part of the Asian Games in Guangzhou, China in November 2010.
However, at both the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics, the West Indies is not represented as an entity in itself with the various island nations that make up the Caribbean sending in their own individual teams.
South Africa led by Shaun Pollock beat Australia (captained by Steve Waugh) for the gold medal at Kuala Lumpur. West Indian legends Curtly Ambrose and Richie Richardson also competed but under their national flag of Antigua and Barbuda.
The other West Indian nations sending cricket teams were Barbados and Jamaica. Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and others did not. The ICC had no choice but to strike the matches from official records since it only recognizes the West Indies as an ICC member.
Cricket will be represented by the 20/20 format at the Guangzhou Asiad, though here too the ICC has hinted it may not grant the matches official status. The Olympic Council of Asia appears confident that India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh will send their strongest sides. But with cricket’s international calendar even more packed now with the advent of the Indian Premier League, it looks pretty unlikely that the national cricket bodies will be in a position to spare their top players. On this thorny issue, there is bound to be another clash between the Board of Control for Cricket in India and the IOA, just as there was on the eve of the 1998 Commonwealth Games.
Ironically, England did not send a side (Scotland and Northern Ireland did however) as the event coincided with their domestic county season while Pakistan were represented by second-stringers. In India’s case, there was a clash with the Sahara Friendship Cup ODI series against Pakistan in Toronto. The BCCI could not let down its sponsors and the TV channel with which it had signed lucrative contracts. The IOA however raised an outcry over the issue of patriotism as it was determined to get big names like Sachin Tendulkar to play under the Indian tri-colour at Kuala Lumpur.
Ultimately two Indian teams thousands of miles away ended up competing at the same time—the official Indian team in Toronto for the five-match series led by Mohammad Azharuddin and another one at Kuala Lumpur which included Tendulkar, Anil Kumble, Ajay Jadeja (captain) and VVS Laxman.
It was an uneasy compromise and the end result was defeat for both sides. India’s early exit at KL saw Jadeja rush to Toronto in time for the fourth match of the Sahara Friendship Cup and Tendulkar for the fifth and final, by which time Pakistan had already clinched the series.
The irony of the IOA lobbying so hard for cricket at multi-sports events is that it has never missed an opportunity to fire salvoes at the game for dominating the sports scene so completely in India. The IOA had made a bid for cricket to be included at next year’s Commonwealth Games in New Delhi too, but dropped the idea when the BCCI showed no interest.
One final thought. While the current debate centres round the future of Test cricket, the bigger question is whether international (nation v nation) cricket will survive at all now that IPL-wannabes are springing up all over the world. New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori has made it clear that in the near future the players will opt for the cash-rich franchise-based jamborees rather than representing their nations.
If that is the case, then the ICC will lose all relevance and the whole issue of cricket at the Olympics will likely fizzle out.
Food for thought for Adam Gilchrist, Ricky Ponting, Matthew Hayden and others and their “20/20 at 2020” campaign.