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ARGUING FOR CRICKET’S INCLUSION WITHIN THE OLYMPICS

Updated: Aug 21


This post has been authored by Mr. Ankit Kapoor.



Ankit Kapoor is a fourth-year BA-LLB (Hons.) student at the National Law School of India University, Bangalore. He is acutely interested in the intersection between technology and the law, having worked in this space with renowned litigators, law firms, and policy-makers in India. In his spare time, he is a massive sports enthusiast and frequently finds himself applying his knowledge of law, policy, and technology to better understand and improve sports.


This blog piece is featured as a part of our new 'Editor's Picks' series and our humble intention is to invoke a healthy debate on this topical issue. Any Comments/Ideas to the Editor can be addressed at extracovertheblog@gmail.com

It was back in 2009 that the International Olympic Committee (“IOC”) granted permanent recognition to the International Cricket Council (“ICC”). However, it is only recently that cricket’s inclusion in the Olympics received any significant momentum. In 2020, the ICC narrowly passed a resolution to form its own Olympic Committee with the sole purpose of exploring when and how cricket can added be included in the Olympics. Moreover, in 2021, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (“BCCI”), which was the only dissenting ICC member on this issue, has recently provided its approval for cricket’s inclusion, subject to its autonomy being undistributed. Besides this contemporary relevance, the importance of this topic, the author will argue, is rooted in cricket’s long-term sustainability. Accordingly, in this paper, the author argues for the inclusion of cricket in the Olympics.


Since the political economy of this decision is greatly dependent on the BCCI, my arguments are primarily focused on benefits accruing to the BCCI. While focusing on BCCI’s interests, the author also elucidates how this decision aligns with the interests of other stakeholders: cricket-playing nations, athletes, the audience, the IOC, and the ICC.


Broadly, the author argues that while there are certainly governance challenges for the BCCI, these aren’t insurmountable or disproportionate. Moreover, there are several strategic as well as commercial, and developmental opportunities. Finally, the author provides an overview of the proposal the ICC should make to the IOC.


STRATEGIC IMPLICATIONS


Despite its population, talent pool, and resources, India has secured only 28 overall medals over 24 editions of the Summer Olympics. During the last two decades, India has secured only 13 medals, with only 1 being gold. Moreover, India has won medals at only one team sport- hockey.


Given the performance and depth of the Indian men’s and women’s cricket team in the last decade, a medal is almost guaranteed, with gold also attainable. Thus, like the “golden era of hockey”, cricket has a chance of reviving India’s fortunes at the Olympics. Globally, this is analogous to the performance of Hungary’s water polo team in the 1950s, and Greece’s weightlifting athletes since the 1990s. Historically, the Olympics has always been a vehicle for patriotism and national unity, evinced by the sustained viewership despite India’s continued poor performances. Therefore, the success that cricket guaranteed to India at the Olympics could provide considerable soft power to the BCCI, as also evidenced by hockey’s position between 1920-1980.


COMMERCIAL AND DEVELOPMENTAL IMPLICATIONS


In recent years cricket’s global footprint in terms of participation, viewership, and hosting venues has been on the decline. This is particularly true for the 90+ associate and affiliate nations. The limited playing and financial opportunities they receive, along with the ICC’s unequal revenue distribution, has created a cyclical pattern that only compounds these disparities. In contrast, cricket’s main competitors- basketball, rugby, and baseball- have increased their global footprint on all three counts.


The dominant counterargument to these trends is that cricket’s increasing dominance in the subcontinent, especially India, will ensure its long-term sustainability. However, recent expansion efforts by basketball, football, tennis, and golf into India have come at the cost of existing cricket supporters. Therefore, global expansionism is the ultimate insurance against an inevitable decline in cricket’s dominant market.

Attaining global expansion through the ICC’s intervention and organic domestic interest is likely to be protracted and inadequate. In this regard, the Olympics serve as an effective short-term catalyst to global participation, popularity, and exposure.


Athletes


Most importantly, for associate/affiliate teams, Olympic recognition could lead to increased government funding unconditional on performance.[i] This can be used by regional boards for infrastructure, facility development, and local expansion programs. This foundation enables financial rewards for athletes/staff and increases corporate sponsorships. It also complements the ICC’s interventions, with the IOC granting it anywhere between $15-20 million every Olympic Games and $4-6 million every year. China is perhaps the best example of a nation where the pursuit of sporting excellence leads to immediate and comprehensive support from the government. To illustrate, the Chinese government provided a globally unprecedented $651 million in 2016 to its sports administrative body to invest mostly in untapped sports, set up sports-specific centres of excellence, and institute specialized coaching at its over 5000 sports schools. It also invested over $42.6 billion in the 2008 Summer Olympics to incentivize domestic athletes, and also generate greater interest among the audience. Its experience indicates that from a state, public, and media perspective, there is a significant difference in interest between Olympic and non-Olympic sports. This is also true for other nations, albeit to a lesser degree. There is also grass-roots integration with cricket becoming an approved school sport. Greater and diverse competitive match-time also follows Olympic inclusion, something associate/affiliate teams desperately need. Notably, most of these associate/affiliate nations perform poorly at Olympics. The lower global competition in cricket, compared to other team sports, positions it as a strategically viable medal-winning opportunity for them.


The effect of greater funding, grassroots inclusion, and potential Olympic success will be the greatest on women’s cricket. The lack of commercial incentive in non-Olympic cricket and gender biases can be largely offset by the pride and rewards that follow Olympic success. The inclusion of women’s rugby at the Olympics demonstrated the colossal impact merely Olympic status can have on participation and perception. Female participation in associate/affiliate nations is only 10%, indicating massive scope for growth. Moreover, as China shows, the success and potential of women’s cricket can also catalyze the development of men’s cricket. Since women’s cricket is comparatively less competitive, it is easier for associate/affiliate nations, especially those that are otherwise resource-rich, to succeed there. The interest and recognition that follows such success along with the potential for even greater achievements serve as tangible proof. This in turn increases the ICC’s leverage in negotiating with the government of the associate/affiliate nation for the development of men’s cricket too. Thus, Olympic participation can become an entry point for women and men teams of associate/affiliate nations into more professional versions of cricket.


In fact, these increased opportunities and the possibility of Olympic success will render cricket more viable, professionally, in declining test-nations like Sri Lanka and South Africa too. These nations don’t have the best record at the Olympics. Thus, the potential for success at the Olympics will generate greater interest among athletes, and their parents, to play cricket. Moreover, it incentivizes the government to increase its grassroots funding for cricket. A new audience is also attracted, which means increased commercial opportunities. These advancements improve the competitive balance of cricket, which directly impacts marketability.


Besides long-term sustainability, this improves and diversifies the talent pool available to the BCCI for its own competitions, whilst also pushing the boundaries for cricketing excellence.


Audience


Viewership at the 2008, 2012, and 2016 Olympics was around 70% of the global population. The largest pie of this viewership was outside cricket’s traditional audience. Therefore, the Olympics is a guaranteed window to expose cricket to a truly new and global audience. This not only means higher television viewership but also greater social media influence. This is particularly important since cricket is barely 4th when compared to other sports, in its social media presence. There are at least 25-33% fans in the 0-18, 18-24, 25-34, and 35-54 age demographic that loyally watch the Olympics, which allows cricket access to a digitally active and receptive/impressionable audience. In lieu of the Olympics’ credibility, I believe there is also an opportunity to re-capture the 55-75 age demographic that is currently contemptuous of the shortest formats, which is most likely to be the proposed event. There is also an opportunity to capture the overseas residents and refugee audience from a cricketing culture, in non-cricketing nations.


This exposure can eventually translate to greater marketable interest and viewership for non-Olympic cricketing competitions. Since there are at least 35-46% fans who earn more than $50,000 yearly, there is adequate purchasing power. Commercialization can occur through merchandising and/or broadcasting.


The Olympics doesn’t per se provide any additional benefit for pre-existing sponsorship and advertisement arrangements because of the bar on publicity in stadia, equipment, clothing, and accessories.[ii] The same applies to broadcasting/streaming because the IOC owns exclusive rights,[iii] which are merely licensable.[iv] However, there are indirect benefits from the wider and diverse exposure the Indian cricket team and its athletes are provided. The potential dilution of broadcasting valuations due to oversaturation can be addressed by ensuring that cricket has a unique competitive meaning at the Olympics.


Therefore, the Olympics can help the BCCI in balancing its short-term need for revenue with cricket’s long-term need for expansion.


GOVERNANCE IMPLICATIONS


If cricket were included within the Olympics, the BCCI would need to be bound by all the obligations of the Olympic Charter (“the Charter”) and the National Sports Development Code, 2011 (“the Code”).[v] This decreases the BCCI’s power in five major ways.


Firstly, the BCCI’s status as “an autonomous body” will be untenable since it becomes a National Sports Federation (“NSF”), thus necessitating interference from the Indian Olympic Association (“IOA”).[vi] Under the scheme of the Code, this means that there will be mandatory stipulations for BCCI as regards its financial decisions, such as maintenance and auditing of accounts, as well as governance structure and processes, such as a change in the representation of state associations or term-limit of office-bearers. However, this isn’t as problematic because selection decisions are still effectively within the BCCI’s control,[vii] and there is no major revenue lost to the IOA.


Second, the BCCI will have to change its practices on issues inter alia conflict of interest, term limits, and a national character to comply with the Charter and Code. But since most of these changes have been directed by the Lodha Committee anyway and are binding on the BCCI, their implementation is inevitable. There is no scope for leniency or relaxation.


Third, the BCCI will necessarily become a public authority against whom RTIs can be filed. However, there is emerging sound jurisprudence that acknowledges this anyway,[viii] and given the Lodha Committee and Law Commission reports,[ix] it is likely this position will be adopted soon.


Fourth, the grounds of non-compliance, which are quite severe, become actionable against the BCCI.[x] Effectively, the grounds invoking these consequences will not be actionable so long as the Lodha Committee reforms are accepted and enforced.


Fifth, the BCCI does not have any direct representation in policy-making at the Olympics. But the BCCI’s disproportionate power within the ICC and India’s centrality to a successful Olympic bid for cricket should provide adequate leverage to represent interests.


Since the BCCI is now NADA/WADA compliant, doping requirements are not an issue anymore. Moreover, BCCI’s recognition as an NSF will lead to government funding, which can be used to satiate dissatisfied stakeholders in a post-Lodha reforms world.


THE PROPOSAL


To balance the above-mentioned benefits with the qualification/evaluation criteria, the bid to include cricket will have to be strategically tailored.


The Los Angeles Olympics 2028 must be targeted because this gives the BCCI and ICC enough time to develop and test this proposal. Inclusion must happen by 2025,[xi] but an extension is possible.[xii] Moreover, the host has extra weightage in proposing a sport, and the USA Cricket Association is pushing for cricket’s inclusion.


The Olympics is now event-based.[xiii] The rules governing the event will be determined by the ICC.[xiv] The T20 format/event is perfect for a short and intense competition, involving multiple teams. It is the most egalitarian format, and easier to universalize due to low entry barriers. Given the short attention span of viewers, T20’s entertainment and simplicity are ideal. It is also overwhelmingly the fan’s choice. While the T10 format embodies most of these benefits, it is not suitable because the proposed event must have sufficient tournaments of global character hosted by the International Federation, i.e., ICC.[xv] The ICC has not hosted any global T10 tournaments yet and is unlikely to host a sufficient number of such tournaments in the upcoming years.


To ensure that the Olympics don’t deplete the meaning/relevance of T20 World Cups, ICC can impose age/match caps on participating players,[xvi] like football. This will ensure the difference in playing squads, greater competitiveness at the Olympics, and exposure to inexperienced players. This also cleverly helps cricket evade IOC’s general requirement of ensuring the availability of the best players.[xvii] The participating teams could be decided purely through qualifiers with at least 16 qualifying teams,[xviii] to ensure global character. Teams can be arranged in four groups of four each, with winners of each group proceeding to the semi-finals.


This proposal ensures that the ICC puts its best foot forward before the IOC, whilst also advancing its long-term objective of global expansion.


CONCLUSION


There are strong strategic reasons for including cricket in the Olympics for the BCCI. More importantly, this decision also has a significant positive impact on the long-term commerce and development of cricket, particularly for the athletes and audience. The government implications are not very profound and inevitable due to other legal developments in India. In any case, they are a small price to pay for the accruing benefits. Any proposal to the IOC for cricket’s inclusion must strategically address the issues of the targeted Olympics, format, qualification, squad eligibility, and tournament structure. My proposal argues for the T20 format for the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics, with age/map caps on participating players. The tournament must be structured to include at least 12 teams, selected through qualifiers, arranged in four groups followed by the semi-finals.



The author can be reached for comments on his email at ankitkapoor@nls.ac.in


Cite as: Ankit Kapoor, Arguing for Cricket’s inclusion within the Olympics, Extra-Cover: The Sports Law Blog of India (20th August 2021), Accessed at https://www.extra-cover.org/post/arguing-for-cricket-s-inclusion-within-the-olympics [Date of Access].

End-Notes:

[i] Jay Dansinghani, ‘Olympic approval could benefit cricket's development in Japan’ (The Japan Times, 26 May 2020) <https://www.japantimes.co.jp/sports/2020/05/26/more-sports/cricket-2/olympic-approval-benefit-crickets-development-japan/> accessed 1 June 2021; Tim Wigmore, ‘James Anderson gives support to cricket’s inclusion at Olympics’ (The Telegraph, 4 January 2021) <https://www.telegraph.co.uk/cricket/2021/01/04/james-anderson-gives-support-crickets-inclusion-olympics/> accessed 1 June 2021; Women's CricZone Staff, ‘Cricket becoming an Olympic sport would be financially beneficial, says Cricket Brazil President, Matt Featherstone’ (Women’s Criczone, 4 August 2020) <https://www.womenscriczone.com/cricket-becoming-an-olympic-sport-would-be-financially-beneficial-says-cricket-brazil-president-matt-featherstone> accessed 1 June 2021; Shounak Sarkar, ‘Olympics not an immediate priority says ICC Global Development Head’ (Emerging Cricket, 16 October 2020) <https://emergingcricket.com/news/ec-podcast/olympics-not-an-immediate-priority-says-icc-global-development-head/> accessed 1 June 2021; Tim Wigmore, ‘A case for Olympic status and wooing China’ (ESPN Cricinfo, 27 June 2014) <https://www.espncricinfo.com/story/tim-wigmore-on-the-case-for-cricket-in-the-olympics-755727> accessed 1 June 2021. [ii] Olympic Charter 2015, rule 50.1 and bye-law 1 to rule 50. [iii] Olympic Charter 2015, rule 7.2 and 7.4. [iv] Olympic Charter 2015, rule 7.4 and bye-law 2.2 to rule 7-14. [v] Olympic Charter 2015, rule 1.4, rule 16.2.1, rule 29, and rule 40. [vi] Olympic Charter 2015, rule 27.3 and rule 27.7. [vii] National Sports Development Code 2011, para 13.1; Olympic Charter 2015, rule 44.4-44.5. [viii] Central Information Commission, Subhash Chandra Agrawal v. PIO, Department of Sports, Order No. CIC/LS/2012/000565; Smt. Geeta Rani v. CPIO, M/o Youth Affairs & Sports, CIC/ MOYAS/A/2018/123236. [ix] Law Commission of India, Reforms in the Judiciary: Some Suggestions (Law Comm No 21, Report no 275, 2018) para VII; Supreme Court Committee on Reforms in Cricket, Report on Cricket Reforms (vol 1) 57. [x] National Sports Development Code 2011, Annexure III. [xi] Olympic Charter 2015, bye-law 1.1 to rule 45. [xii] Olympic Charter 2015, bye-law 1.2 to rule 45. [xiii] Olympic Agenda 2020, recommendation 10. [xiv] Olympic Charter 2015, bye-law 1-2 to rule 40. [xv] Olympic Program Commission’s Evaluation Criteria for Sports and Disciplines, criteria 3, 4, 7 & 10. [xvi] Olympic Charter 2015, rule 42. [xvii] Olympic Program Commission’s Evaluation Criteria for Sports and Disciplines, criteria 11. [xviii] Olympic Charter 2015, bye-law 13 to rule 44.

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