Over the past week, there have been a flurry of media reports on a push to include cricket on the roster for the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles. Is this real or just wishful thinking?
Researched by: Nirmal Bhansali & Aarthi Ramnath
Cricket at the Olympics: A quick history
Believe it or not, cricket was slated to be one of the sports at the very first modern Olympics held in Greece in 1896. But the plans were quietly shelved due to the lack of entries.
Four years later: Things looked a lot more promising at the 1900 Games in Paris. Four teams were slated to play—England, France, Belgium and Holland—but the entire tournament was a bit of a mess:
It was symptomatic of the confusion surrounding the Games - the Olympics at that time were a far cry from the slick modern bonanza. Events took place between May and October at 16 different venues, and the word Olympics was rarely used. The 1900 Games were referred to as part of the Great Exposition or the World's Fair.
Belgium and Holland dropped out as co-hosts. And in the end, there was only one match between France and England.
The great game: In fact, the English side was not a national team but a touring club named Devon & Somerset Wanderers—who were in Paris on a three-match jaunt. Cricket’s only Olympic appearance was therefore a tad underwhelming:
The two-day "international" took place at the impressive Velodrome de Vincennes, a 20,000-seater banked cycling track, and started on Sunday, August 19, 1900. The crowd consisted of a dozen or so bemused gendarmes. Potential spectators had hardly been encouraged by an explanation in La Vie Au Grand Air, the official publication of the Games, which described cricket as "this sport without colour to the uninitiated.”
But here’s the really funny bit: “Neither side seemed aware that they had taken part in the Olympics, and the match was only retrospectively formally recognised as being an Olympic contest in 1912.” You can see the ad for the game below:
Enter USA: Founder of the Olympics—Baron Pierre de Coubertin—pushed for inclusion of cricket at the 1904 Olympics—slated to be held in St Louis. It was on the final event list but dropped due to “lack of participation.” And it was never seriously considered for inclusion again. But the sport was part of the pre show at the 2012 London Olympics.
Some blame cricket’s exclusion on the “gradual US takeover of the Olympics.” That said, cricket was not part of the Commonwealth Games until 1998—in the 50-over format at Kuala Lumpur. More recently, the 2022 CWG in Birmingham included a women’s Twenty20 competition. But both men’s and women’s T20 cricket has been part of the Asian Games since 2010.
Ok, what would it take for it to be included now?
There are two paths to entering a new sport into the Olympic roster.
One: The host nation makes a pitch for it. Example: Japan nominated skateboarding, karate, surfing, sports climbing, and baseball/softball. To be considered for inclusion, the sport should be popular in the country—which should also have venues to stage the games. But, but, but: Sports nominated by a host nation are not guaranteed a sport in subsequent Olympics. In other words, this is a temporary elevation.
Two: In order to earn a permanent spot, the sport has to pass muster with the International Olympic Committee. The executive board puts forward a proposal—and the 99 members vote on it. A sport is evaluated on the basis of five factors that are split into 35 criteria:
The criteria include how much value the sport would add to the Olympics legacy; how long the sport has existed; how popular the sport is in the host country; how much it would cost to broadcast the events, and numerous other factors. Sports included in the Games must also be governed by an international sports federation and must comply with both the Olympic Charter and the World Anti-Doping Code.
An issue of numbers: Many sports could potentially meet most of the IOC criteria. But numbers also matter. Until 2007, the committee required a sport to be played by men in at least 75 countries across four continents—and by women in 40 countries. The IOC has relaxed that rule but cricket would struggle to qualify in terms of global popularity.
The Olympics also have an official cap on the number of athletes—10,500—and number of medal "events"—310. These are flexible, of course—and the Tokyo Olympics had 338 events and 11,656 athletes. But including cricket would require adding 240 more to the Olympics roster. Again, that isn’t exactly a dealbreaker.
So what are the chances for cricket?
They are looking pretty strong—at least for the LA Olympics in 2028. Recent reports in The Times UK and The Guardian say it is almost a shoo-in. The current proposal is for five teams each in the men’s and women’s T20 competition—who will qualify based on the International Cricket Council’s world rankings.
Here’s what has changed:
One: Cricket in its traditional Test or ODI format was way too time-consuming to qualify. But now that T20 has gone global, the game has a much stronger shot at making the cut.
Two: As we noted, the host nation has a lot of clout when determining the list of sports. Example: France dropped baseball—which was part of the Tokyo Games—but added breakdancing. The US just got its own T20 league—Major League Cricket—funded by Silicon Valley heavy-hitters like Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. Adding cricket to the Olympic attractions could easily become part of the bigger push to promote the sport in America. Also: the US now has the venues to host the games. Plus: LA Olympics Chairman Casey Wasserman seems to want a groundbreaking Olympics.
Three: Money. The IOC has been paying close attention to the crazy revenue generated by the IPL: “Forbes valued seven of the IPL’s teams at over $1 billion, roughly the same as lower-tier NBA teams, while playing far shorter seasons.” Sure, cricket may not be played in a lot of countries—but it is the #1 sport in India. As one US sports exec puts it: “People might say cricket isn’t big in the U.S., but it’s bigger in a place that is four times bigger than the US.”
And that makes India a juicy new market for the IOC:
The IOC, which relies on huge corporate sponsorships and expensive television rights deals, is aggressively seeking new markets, especially as streaming cuts audience numbers for traditional broadcasts. By holding two Olympics in China in the past 15 years, the IOC has built a significant base. India stands as the next big prize, and Olympic officials are working to find ways into the country.
Consider this: The current broadcast rights for the Paris Olympics in India are reported to be worth just $20 million. But that number could shoot up to $188.5 million (£150 million) if cricket were to be included in LA.
Four: The BCCI really, really wants it. For the longest time, the Indian cricket board wasn’t on the best terms with the International Cricket Board—which has changed now that Jay Shah is a member. And neither was keen on participating in a tournament that would compete with the T20 World Cup—or its international calendar. But now everyone is gung-ho and on the same page—especially since cricket vastly improves India’s prospects for scoring a gold.
One reason for the BCCI’s burst of enthusiasm:
More significantly, Modi seems to want an Olympics in India, specifically Ahmedabad, which is being triumphed as a new sports and cultural hub. Pushing hard for the 2036 Games, India recently hired Australian design and architecture firm Populous to help prepare a master plan.
“Modi very much wants to host an Olympics,” Bose said. “He is refashioning India, and he wants to refashion it away from the British Empire, basically making it a new country. The Indians want to show they are a world power. To host an Olympics will do that.”
The bottomline: With about 15 T20 leagues around the world, cricket has truly become a global—and more importantly, wealthy sport. It’s totally ready for prime time at the Olympics.
The Washington Post and The Guardian look at the strong possibility of cricket making the LA Games roster. ESPNCricInfo offers an India-centric view of the same. We did two excellent Big Stories on Major League Cricket in the US—and the spread of IPL-style tournaments around the world. ESPNCricInfo has more on that 1900 match in Paris. This earlier 2021 piece by Sharda Ugra on the road to the Olympics is also worth a read. NPR looks at the IOC’s qualification criteria.