The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro will feature 28 sports including golf that will appear for the first time since it featured in 1904. While a number of sports including rugby sevens have managed to become a part of the mega event, cricket is yet to find its way back into the Olympic fold.
Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of modern Olympics, wanted cricket to feature in the first modern Olympiad way back in 1896. However, cricket made a fleeting appearance in the 1900 Olympic Games in Paris, where an amateur team (Devon and Somerset Wanderers) from regional Britain comfortably defeated a rabble of mostly British ex-pats (Athletic Club Union) representing France.
There was practically no fanfare for the winners or even the event itself as cricket made its first and last Olympic appearance. However, a lot has changed since 1900 and cricket has changed dramatically to become one of the most popular sports in the world with an estimated billion plus people counted as fans.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) recognised the International Cricket Council (ICC) in 2010 which only leaves the cricket body to decide whether to apply for inclusion in the Games or not. The ICC, dominated by the cricket boards from India, England and Australia, still has a shot at 2024 Games if they launch a bid next year.
As the debate over whether cricket will breathe the Olympic air again continues, here's why it should be a part of the mega event:
New realm of exposure
The Olympics are known to garner more viewership than any other sports event on television, including the football World Cup. A staggering 4.7 billion viewers tuned in to watch the Beijing Olympics in 2008, while 3.6 billion people watched the 2012 London Olympics on TV. That's around 70 per cent of the global audience.
Each sport, while featuring in the Olympics, aims to get a share of those four or five billion sets of eyeballs and cricket is no exception. Even though cricket enjoys a considerable global audience majorly due to its popularity in South Asia, the Olympic coverage will undoubtedly push it into a new realm of exposure.
Chance for Associates & Affiliates
While cricket has evolved drastically over the years, it is still catching up in the 95 associate and affiliate nations of the ICC. The minnows have always lacked the exposure and funds to improve their game. The inclusion of cricket in Olympics will only provide the much-needed exposure for countries with little cricketing heritage.
Apart from the exposure, it would also unlock the government funding that is generally directed towards Olympic sports in a lot of countries. The financial benefits will help the minnows to develop an effective infrastructure and emerge as a better team in global events.
Finding future cricket stars
The international cricket calendar is largely dominated by the stronger and popular Test-playing nations. Apart from the regular Test and ODI series, a World Cup every four years and the biennial World T20s make it very difficult for cricket to fit the Olympics into its busy schedule.
That's exactly what football struggled with and entered the Olympics with an under-23 tournament. Cricket can do the same thing and limit the Olympics to younger players, giving talented future stars a platform to shine on a major international stage.
A much-needed platform for women's cricket
Cricket has largely been a sport dominated by men, with the women only lurking in the shadows. However, the women's international cricket tournaments have benefited from increased viewership by playing alongside those of their male counterparts - the Women's World T20 and Men's World T20 played concurrently in 2012. But, the men's cricket still dominates the sport.
Since, there is no bigger stage than the Olympics, the women's cricket will undoubtedly benefit from the mega event. Given its underappreciated status, the women's cricket can enjoy more viewers, brighter stars and a much-needed cash injection. But, most important of them all, it would place women on an equal footing with men in cricket.