Cricket on front foot as Olympics panel looks to include new sports

Cricket could soon begin a new innings of its own. It is among nine sports vying for a spot at the 2028 Olympics and is emerging as a front runner as the International Olympic Committee looks to tap into its die-hard fan base, The Indian Express has learnt.

The decision will be made on October 15-16, just after the World Cup marquee clash between India and Pakistan, when more than 100 IOC members vote in Mumbai to include new sports in the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

The likelihood will be clear this week itself as the IOC’s all-powerful Executive Board is due to meet in Lausanne, Switzerland on September 8. The Board, which includes IOC president Thomas Bach, will take a call on the sports programme for the LA Olympics and it will then be ratified during the IOC session in Mumbai.

The other sports fighting for a place in the Olympics are flag football, karate, kickboxing, baseball-softball, lacrosse, breakdancing, squash and motorsport.

But Michael Payne, a former marketing and broadcast rights director of the IOC who is familiar with its inner workings after working there for nearly two decades, believes that cricket remains a favourite to get the nod.

Payne cited the “current cricket boom” in the US, where some of the biggest tech firms have invested in the Major League. Adding to cricket’s advantage, Payne said, is that the 2032 Olympics will be held in Australia, where cricket is a major sport.

“In 2032, the Games are in Brisbane, Australia… there will be a local interest in cricket… And also from a business perspective, cricket is booming in America. The Los Angeles (organising) committee is headed by a gentleman called Casey Wasserman, who is a very astute business leader and owns one of the world’s largest sports media groups. He could see the potential in cricket,” he said.

And then, Payne added, there’s the IOC’s larger interest in wooing the cricket-loving Indian and South Asian fan base, besides tapping into the subcontinent’s vast market.

As per reports, Indian broadcasters Viacom 18 paid approximately $31 million to bag the rights to show the Olympics, including the Paris Games. In contrast, American network NBC paid $7.65 billion for a deal that runs from 2021 to 2032.

“If you look at all the regions around the world, the one area where frankly the Olympic Games is not nearly as strong as elsewhere in the subcontinent, you know, India, Pakistan. And if you were to bring cricket onto the Olympic programme, it would have a major impact,” Payne said.

India is also bidding to host the Olympics in 2036, with the selection process still in the nascent stages.

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Cricket was last played at the Olympics in 1900, where a one-off gold-medal match was played between two teams representing Britain and France. It has remained out ever since, largely due to the IOC’s rigid policy on including one sport only if another was dropped, and the International Cricket Council’s (ICC’s) indifference to that.

That has, of late, changed with Bach making the sports selection policy flexible and the ICC in recent years putting wheels into motion to get cricket back to the Olympics.

The ICC has pitched the T20 format with five teams in each gender likely to feature in LA. The stadium currently being built by IPL heavyweights Kolkata Knight Riders, one of the founding investors in the Major League, is expected to host the matches.

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