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By Gulu Ezekiel
The decision by the BCCI not to send a team for the cricket event to be played for the first time at the Asian Games in Guangzhou, China later this year is more than just a ‘money v medals’ issue.
At the heart of the decision is the continued refusal of Indian cricketers to sign the ‘whereabouts clause’ of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) which is compulsory for all sporting bodies which are signatories to the WADA code as is the International Cricket Council (ICC).
However, there is more to it than just the doping issue.
Another vital factor is the BCCI’s reluctance to be a part of any event over which they neither have control over their players nor earn revenue from TV rights as in the case of multi-sports events such as the Commonwealth and Asian Games and the Olympics. And here there will inevitably be an ego tussle between the head honchos of the BCCI and the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) as was the case with the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur in 1998 where cricket was played for the first and only time.
Back then the dates for the CWG clashed with the Sahara Cup ‘Friendship Series’ of five ODIs between India and Pakistan in Toronto which was into its third year and for which the BCCI had signed a contract with the International Management Group (IMG).
While Pakistan was content to send a second-string side to Kuala Lumpur, the IOA unnecessarily made an issue of the team composition, insisting the top side should be sent. The Sahara Cup sponsors and broadcasting channel were understandably miffed at this.
Ultimately an uneasy compromise was arrived at with top stars like Sachin Tendulkar, Ajay Jadeja (the captain) and Anil Kumble playing for the country in Kuala Lumpur with the understanding that if India did not cross the first round, these players would be rushed to Toronto for the last two games of the series.
India did crash out in the first round at the CWG but by the time Tendulkar and Jadeja were rushed to Toronto, it was too late to salvage the series.
Indian cricket was thus a loser twice over.
Ironically, the ICC did not recognize the matches at the CWG as official ODIs since the West Indian islands (Barbados, Jamaica, etc) were competing as separate nations as they do at the Olympics.
England who are the founders of the Commonwealth Games movement, did not send a team as the dates clashed with their domestic county fixtures.
All this put back the whole concept of cricket at multi-sports events back by many years and it now after over a decade that cricket makes a comeback in the form of the Asian Games.
The IOA claims it did not press for cricket at the Commonwealth Games this year in New Delhi as it anticipated opposition from the BCCI.
In any case, the BCCI zealously guards its autonomy as it is the only sporting body in the country that does not depend on government funding, nor does it come under the IOA umbrella. Autonomy is something the IOA is only just beginning to become aware of now that the Sports Ministry is cracking the whip on the tenure issue.
It is apparently beyond the BCCI and IOA to reach a compromise formula whereby a junior team (say, Under-23) is sent for such multi-sports events.
This is a pity because this is precisely the formula followed by the world football governing body, FIFA for men’s football at the Olympics so that the football World Cup does not lose its pre-eminence on the world sporting map. FIFA however allows full strength women’s squads to participate at the Olympics where football was first introduced at Atlanta in 1996.
It is interesting to note that once again, despite the ICC having applied for and successfully received approval by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) earlier this year, the ICC has decided not to designate the matches at the Asiad as official ODIs.
The reasons given for this by the ICC range from the venues in China not having been approved, to the participating nations deciding not to send full-strength sides.
The latter reason is unusual since both Sri Lanka and India sent second-string sides to this month’s tri-nation series in Zimbabwe which had full ODI status. And besides, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh have already stated that they will be sending their top players to the Asian Games.
This decision is probably as much political as sporting since these three nations enjoy excellent diplomatic relations with China and the Pakistan Cricket Board has been actively encouraging and helping cricket’s growth in China. New Delhi’s frosty ties with Beijing on the other hand are well known.
In fact the Asian Cricket Council—very much a part of the ICC--has put its weight behind the Guangzhou organizers and have expressed their disappointment at the BCCI’s decision. So the signals coming out of the world cricket fraternity on multi-sports events are decidedly mixed.
Back in February when the ICC gained final approval from the IOC making it eligible to apply for participation in the Olympics (no earlier than the 2020 Games), there was much excitement and debate within cricket circles.
In fact it was in 2007 that cricket took the first step in becoming part of the Olympic family by first gaining “recognition status.” Cricketers such as Adam Gilchrist, Steve Waugh and Sourav Ganguly among others made a strong plea for the ICC to push for the T-20 format at the Olympics.
However, the ICC was quick to throw cold water on such ideas clearly stating that while they were pleased to gain “recognition status” from the IOC, they were no hurry to be part of the Olympics Games proper.
In some nations where Olympic sports receive state funding, cricket would also be a beneficiary now that it comes under the Olympics banner.
This reason perhaps more than anything else is behind the ICC’s Olympics campaign though actual participation will remain on the backburner as long as the BCCI does not comply with WADA’s strictures.
So for the foreseeable future at least, cricket and the Olympics will probably remain in the realms of a trivia question: when was cricket played at the Olympics for the first and only time? Answer: at Paris in 1900 when Great Britain beat France (both sides consisting of English club players) in the only match.