Cricket and the Games in India: why making the Olympics a ‘British’ sport
From Paris 1900 to Barcelona 1992 the Olympic program included what were called ‘exhibition sports’: modalities that were held parallel to the Olympic Games, often in the same facilities, that appeared in the program, but did not officially belong to the Olympic Games. Olympic competition.
Its suppression deprived, perhaps inadvertently, the International Olympic Committee of a resource to confer ‘Olympic legitimacy’ to emerging sports or winks to organizing nations : now, each modality that becomes part of the Olympic program must do so as an official sport, which which means’ cuts’ to those already existing, given the existing limitation of 10,500 participants and already very important organizational and logistical demands. In practice, ‘rotating’ sports have been adopted, which enter and leave the program, such as baseball or karate., which was only Olympic in Tokyo 2020 in, precisely, Japan, the cradle of the sport.
Precisely because of the lack of this possibility, the official entry of cricket into the Olympic program can be considered almost certain. Not only because of the statements of the IOC President, Thomas Bach, in relation to his personal support and his hitherto unknown taste for sport, but also because the decision will be made in Mumbai (India), at the IOC Session to be held on October 15 to 17, because the Indian subcontinent (Pakistan, India and Bangladesh) is the world epicenter of the sport born in the green meadows of the British ‘public schools’, and because the IOC is extremely interested in the emerging Indian power wants to host the Olympic Games. “We are wide open. India is flourishing, developing and working in Olympic sports. It has great potential and can play a much bigger role in the Olympic movement.” Indian sports minister Anurag Thakur signaled his country’s interest in the event several weeks ago.
The fact is that the subcontinent is one of the pending issues of Olympism. Despite its enormous population and the fact that, despite its social and economic inequalities, it has always been a significant economic power, its Olympic record is reduced to 35 medals in 124 years, of which five were obtained before its independence from the Kingdom. United in 1947. And only since Beijing 2008 has it begun to win more than one medal per edition. However, the seven achieved in Tokyo 2020 show a hopeful progression. The possibility that the country, which aspires to a leadership position in the group of emerging economies called BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), wantsenhancing its image with the Olympic Games is seen, as can be seen, with sympathy by the IOC.
Cricket is widely spread in the ‘British world’ but is almost non-existent outside of it. And cricket, acclimatized in India as a legacy of the British Empire that dominated the country for almost 200 years, is the king of sport on a scale that is difficult to compare with the rest of the world. The example of what happened to the Disney + streaming service is enough : since 2020, it has broadcast the IPL, the main professional sports league, as a paid service, hoping to gain 100 million subscribers. Billionaire Mukesh Ambani acquired the rights in 2021 for $2.9 billion: the platform lost 21 of its 61 million subscribers, according to Reuters. It therefore seems risky to organize a multi-sports event in India without cricket.
But the fact is that while cricket is massively practiced and followed in India and, to a lesser extent, in the countries that were part of the former British Empire (an estimated 2.5 billion people are involved in it in places like the United Kingdom, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Zimbabwe or Caribbean Islands) which meets the Olympic geographical extension requirements, is very secondary or practically non-existent outside this area. The need for a specific large field and the complexity of the regulations play against it.
Without going into details about it – it is a ball and bat game, in which the batsmen defend a ‘goal’ or wicket and in which they must add runs and the bowlers will eliminate them -, it is worth noting that a classic match of cricket can last for several days. Modernly, thinking about its television exploitation, the Twenty20 modality has been developed , which limits its duration to around two hours, which would be the one adopted in the Olympic Games. It is likely, therefore, that sport will soon enjoy this showcase.