By Venu Palaparthi
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Cricket and the Summer Olympics
A two-day match was last played at the 1900 Summer Olympics between Great Britain and France. However, since the match was part of the 1900 Universal Exposition, the teams did not know they were competing in the Olympics. That recognition was granted retroactively in 1912. Thus ended the sport's 20th century cameo at the Olympics.
Pic (Right): A poster announces the first Olympics cricket match in 1900
Fast forward to 2007, when cricket was granted provisional recognition for a term of two years. And this month, on February 11th, 2010, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) granted cricket ‘full recognition’.
With full recognition, cricket's inclusion in the Olympics is now a possiblity for the 2020 Olympics! "20-20 in 2020" could be the perfect slogan for its re-entry.
For that to happen, ICC must first bid for the sport's inclusion - a step that would undoubtedly be in line with the aspirations of several cricket playing countries. Thanking the IOC for bestowing full recognition, ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat said: “The ICC is extremely proud of the recognition given to our great sport by the IOC, which we always considered to be our first step in becoming a part of the Olympic family."
"At this stage, no consideration or decision has been made regarding participation or applying for approval to participate in the Olympic Games,” he added.
USA Cricket to Benefit
IOC spokesperson Mark Adams said that national cricket associations would now be recognized federations, "which now means that they can take part in IOC events."
This bodes well for all cricket's national governing bodies such as the USA Cricket Association (USACA). In addition to the respectability that the Olympic recognition brings to the cricketers, USACA now has an additional funding source in the form of the US Olympic Committee (USOC).
IOC depends heavily on revenue from US based corporations and US television rights. In fact, US companies are responsible for 60 percent of all Olympic funding. That in turn results in a windfall for the USOC which gets 13% of U.S. television rights fees and 20% of marketing revenue from the IOC - an amount that is expected to reach $450 million for the 2009-2012 period thanks mainly to the whopping $2.2 billion in TV rights money that NBC has committed for 2012 London games. In plain English, that translates to an annual budget of roughly $150 Million for the USOC.
That is a lot of money!
That money is distributed to athletes as well as national governing bodies (NGB) of IOC recognized sports. For each of the sports that is funded, the USOC looks at what funding the NGB (i.e. USACA) is already providing and then augments that funding based on historic performance, athlete pipeline, medal potential and need.
Without a doubt, USA's prospects for a medal in international competition are expected to play a huge role in how the funds are distributed. But if USACA can demonstrate the need and show some progress in the coming years, in a sport such as cricket, where the number of playing countries is not very high, the opportunity exists for USA to obtain funding assistance from USOC.
As a kicker, cricket has no competition from baseball in the Olympic arena. Both baseball and softball were voted out of the Summer Olympics in 2005. It is now up to cricket to fill the void and get a lift.
The USOC has something of a 'targeted podium program' with the goal of providing buouancy to the medal prospects of Team USA. If Team USA are finishing fifth, they can request and receive help to move up to third. If they are in line for a bronze, they are given the assistance to aim for a gold.
Take US Biathlon for example. For the 2006 games in Italy, the USOC gave US Biathlon $250,000 a year. This season, that sport got $1 million, a sign that USOC views Biathlon favorably from a medal standpoint.
The new chair of USOC's board, Larry Probst cares very much about a younger demographic and about grassroots sports programs.
As the former CEO of Electronic Arts, he knows and understands cricket's potential! "If you could build an online experience around the Olympic brand that has gaming elements to it, I think that could be an pretty interesting proposition," Probst reportedly said last year.
For USA Cricket's proposal to be compelling, it should project itself as a grassroots sport targeting a younger demographic. Programs such as the PSAL should form the cornerstone of USA Cricket's strategy.
Cricket and the Los Angeles Olympics
As a sidenote, cricket in USA has already benefited from the Olympics! California's only turf ground - the Leo Magnus Cricket Complex (more commonly known as the Woodley Cricket Field) is a legacy of the 1984 Olympics!
Pic (Above): Leo Magnus Cricket Complex - A gift of LA Olympics
As reported earlier on DreamCricket.com, between 1933 and 1978, cricket was played at Griffith Park in Burbank on a turf wicket with a matting cover and the one-floor 2,000 sq. ft. pavilion was well maintained with showers, lockers, a clock tower, a verandah to watch the matches.
In those days Griffith Field was surrounded by stables for horses taking part in equestrian events. The equestrian fraternity wanted to take over the Griffith Park field. Part of the reason was the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and equestrian events and polo were on the drawing boards to be held in the immediate area.
The cricket family, led by the late Claude Worrell, strongly objected to the move and negotiations took place with local council authorities before it was decided that the game could move to what is now Woodley Cricket Field. It took another four years for trees to be removed and before the field could be transformed to the gem that it is today!