There are fears that the controversy over golf at Rio 2016 will impact on cricket's ambition to become an Olympic sport ©YouTube

Continued withdrawals from the golf tournament at next month's Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro have dented cricket’s hopes of Olympic inclusion in the future, it has been claimed. 

All of the world’s top four golfers - Jason Day of Australia, Americans Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth and Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy - have all pulled out of Rio 2016, largely due to fears over the Zika virus.

Their respective decisions not to participate in the first Olympic golf tournament for 112 years have provided a huge blow to the sport’s future on the programme and has sparked widespread criticism.

Senior International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Barry Maister of New Zealand claimed last month that golf should not be an Olympic sport if the top players do not take part and International Cricket Council (ICC) chief executive David Richardson has admitted he is fearful they might face similar difficulties should they press ahead with a bid for inclusion.

Richardson’s comments come amid continued uncertainty about how much support the ICC would have for a push for a place on the Olympic programme within its membership, with India expressing their opposition in the past.

The South African had previously called for all of the ICC’s members to unite behind an Olympic bid.

The former Test cricketer warned that they would struggle to earn an Olympic place if they could not get the best teams and players competing at the Games.

Richardson also questioned whether an Olympic cricket tournament would be the pinnacle for his sport.

All of the world's top four male golfers, including Australian Jason Day, have withdrawn Rio 2016 ©Getty Images
All of the world's top four male golfers, including Australian Jason Day, have withdrawn Rio 2016 ©Getty Images

“The IOC made it clear from the start that if we want to persuade them, they want the top teams and the top athletes,” Richardson said.

“I think this experience with golf might have made it even harder for us to get in, because we will have to convince them our top teams and players will be there.

"Golf is a very good lesson to be learned. 

"They have put a lot of work in and, for the top players not to play, they will probably be under fire from the IOC.

“Will cricketers regard it as the pinnacle, or would they prefer a World Twenty20, a World Cup, an Ashes series?

“And if it’s not the pinnacle, should we be in the Olympics in the first place?"

Richardson also reiterated his belief that Olympic cricket should be played in the Twenty20 format of the sport, claiming “if you really want to globalise the game - USA, China, Europe – then we have to be at the Olympics”.

Calls for cricket to become an Olympic sport have gathered pace over the past year, with a number of the game’s leading names and the Marylebone Cricket Club World Cricket Committee, made up of former players and officials such as Richardson, all backing any future bid for a place at the Games.

The Committee has lobbied the IOC to target the 2024 Olympics, which will be held in Budapest, Rome, Paris or Los Angeles, for cricket’s return to the programme for the first time since 1900.

Doubts have been raised, however, by ICC head of global development Tim Anderson, who claims he is not sure there would be space for an Olympic tournament amid an already-packed competition schedule.