TEST PLAYING NATIONS: 10OLYMPICS NATIONS: 204
Why Cricket is not in Olympics?” As top athletes fight out for medals in London, this question must have crossed most of cricket fans’ mind. Well, the two criteria that a sport has to satisfy to be in Olympics are universality and popularity among other factors. It is an interesting choice of words, mind you. Some will argue that cricket is a more popular sport than sports like canoe slalom, fencing and other lesser heard names which made it to Olympics. Yes, you are right. Statistically, cricket is the second most popular sport of the world as per an article in The New York Times, insubstantially though. Interestingly, the yardstick that defines the popularity of cricket can be the number of fans who follow it or the number of nations where it is popular. I would say cricket is popular in nations which share a huge percentage of population of the world like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. But if you consider the global awareness of cricket, let alone popularity, it is gloomy.
And at this point of time, why can’t IOC build cricket stadiums for every country that hosts it? The reason they aren’t built is that nobody is interested in cricket there! If you think of host cities for Olympics: Atlanta, Barcelona, Athens, Beijing ..rarely there are cities in cricket-playing nations. I remember a one-off India Netherlands cricket match being telecasted on ESPNStar. The pre-match show had a survey of local Dutch people about cricket and surprisingly, cricket, the insect was more popular than cricket, the game there. And yes, Netherlands is close to the county-cricket nation England and has played in many ICC events! Unfortunately, Dutch scenario is just a case in point and no exception.
If we look closely, besides the ten ICC full member nations, there are 36 Associate members and 60 Affiliate members out of which only six namely Afghanistan, Canada, Ireland, Kenya, Netherlands and Scotland play some ‘serious’ cricket. In other teams, you would find players who play cricket as a hobby on Sundays and work on the weekdays. The Bermuda team which played in World Cup 2007 is an example of this hobby-cricket. I wonder how many local Bermuda people even knew that Bermuda was representing itself in that ICC marquee event. Same goes for associate/affiliate teams who have had years of experience playing with each other and yet have not graduated to the top level. And how can they graduate if they don’t play against the better teams? Cricket thus remains a lesser-known sport in these associate/affiliate nations.
Another factor while discussing ‘popularity’ is the real popularity at grass root level. How many nations’ children play cricket on streets in their childhood? Very few. In fact, teams like USA and Canada don’t have Americans and Canadians playing in their teams but the Asians and County players who perhaps went there for a better career.
Associate nations need more examples like Netherland’s Ryan ten Doeschate in IPL, Big Bash, etc.
So, why are the other nations not playing cricket? The reasons are seemingly complex rules, lack of the required skill set and global academies to help budding cricketers evolve and compete with the best. Naturally, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) won’t include a sport where podium finishes are decided before the games begin!
The ICC gloats of popularizing cricket with various associate tournaments that happen round-the-clock. But the gap between test-playing nations and these associate/affiliate nations isn’t narrowing. Apparently, these nations are playing in a zone of their own. Beating each other won’t help. They need serious cricket with full-members. The ICC is worried that a Denmark vs. India match won’t buy sponsors and stadium tickets, and that is why these games aren’t promoted. Don’t look much far – just count the difference between the tests Bangladesh and India plays per year. This money-drawing calendar of matches isn’t helping the ‘popularity’ of cricket.
A possible solution would be to let these associate teams tour the full-member nations more frequently to know how it is like playing at the bigger level. Some of these players will get noticed, get IPL, Big Bash contracts and the money will start to pour in these nations for better administration and facilities. It is a long term investment which might draw less people to stadiums initially but later on, as these nations show some fighting spirit, only the game of cricket will benefit.
Another solution will be to promote the inter-associate competitions more. Even county cricket is shown on television, then why not national cricket matches of associate nations. ICC needs to take a leaf from FIFA’s book which has ‘popularized’ football in all possible definitions of the word.
Next time while watching cricket, do let your cousin in Brussels or Vienna know what cricket is! The word might just spread..