Liam Morgan

History tells us that cricket’s last Olympic appearance came at the Paris Games in 1900, and it seems as though a return to the programme for the sport has been discussed ever since the final ball was bowled in the French capital more than a century ago.

Talks have gathered pace among the top brass at the International Cricket Council (ICC) in recent years, with varying rhetoric disseminating from each meeting. The one aspect they can all agree on is the format, with Twenty20 the favoured option.

The debate shows little sign of coming to a halt any time soon, particularly after chief executive David Richardson fuelled the fire once more earlier this week.

A change in attitude towards cricket at the Olympics has swept through ICC corridors, culminating in Richardson strongly hinting an application for the 2024 Games was firmly on the horizon during the SportsPro Live conference in London.

Cricket did not enter the running for Tokyo 2020. Twenty-six other sports did, including bridge, chess, dancesport, floorball, racquetball, sumo and tug of war. Cricket had the opportunity but declined.

It is this reticence and reluctance within the ICC which has provided the biggest barrier to the sport’s Olympic prospects, along with a clear ambivalence from India, seen as one of the main powerbrokers within cricketing governance.

Now, though, the tune seems to have changed, certainly at the ICC. But it does not mean the issues have gone away.

A pressing concern is what to do with the West Indies. The Caribbean powerhouses, an icon and a symbol for the region they represent on the international stage, would not be able to take part in any Olympic tournament as they are not a National Olympic Committee (NOC).

Effectively, the World Twenty20 champions would be absent from a potentially glorious return to the Games, dealing a blow to the overall quality of the competition and to the cricket-mad Caribbean people for whom the sport has often provided a release from darker and more troubled times.

ICC chief executive David Richardson raised the possibility of the sport bidding for a place on the Olympic programme ©Getty Images
ICC chief executive David Richardson raised the possibility of the sport bidding for a place on the Olympic programme ©Getty Images

Richardson insists dealing with the West Indian conundrum would not be a problem, with a qualification tournament involving the key cricketing nations that make up the region – Jamaica, St Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados, for example – touted as one possible remedy.

Another more improbable solution, suggested by devout cricket fan and International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Richard Peterkin, is to change the Olympic Charter to allow regional teams to participate at the Games. I can already hear the grumbles and repudiation from the purists.

“The West Indian team is an icon for people in the Caribbean – they have managed to bring a lot of pride to the islands,” Peterkin told insidethegames.

“If the IOC says you cannot have a regional team, which are the rules as it stands, then that is where the problem lies.

“There are some teams in the Caribbean who field a team at national tournaments but these are usually dominated by the same few countries. These islands who have three or four West Indian players would struggle to field an internationally competitive side and to put together team is difficult.

"My dream would be the West Indies having the chance to field a regional team. If the West Indies did manage that and won the gold medal, they would be considered as having won a medal for their island.

"But obviously the medal would be given to the team and would have an effect on the statistics and the anthem, for example, but those should never be things that prevent us.”

The St Lucian raises an interesting point. The West Indian squad which triumphed so breathtakingly at the World Twenty20 in India last year featured five players from Trinidad and Tobago, four from Barbados and Jamaica and two from Peterkin’s native island.

With Richardson suggesting an Olympic cricket event would have no more than “six to eight teams”, how exactly would you decide how many nations from the region took part?

The West Indies are the reigning World Twenty20 champions ©Getty Images
The West Indies are the reigning World Twenty20 champions ©Getty Images

Australia, India and some form of England team, disguised under the Team GB banner, competing would surely be a given. Using the lower limit of Richardson’s estimate, South Africa and New Zealand would unquestionably lay claim to two of the remaining places – ranked first and third in the Twenty20 format standings respectively - with one then going to either Pakistan, Sri Lanka or the qualified nation from the Caribbean.

A West Indian regional team would be a plausible idea if the IOC were to change the Charter, but that appears as likely as Thomas Bach admitting Agenda 2020 has not quite lived up to its billing.

“Things are changing. Things we hadn’t thought possible five or 10 years ago have happened,” adds Peterkin.

"Of course, it would require a Charter change and some might say it would be like opening Pandora’s box, but people thought it would be the end of the Olympic Games when professional athletes were allowed to compete, for example.

“We should at least have a discussion. It depends whether the ICC would allow the West Indies to have a team but the sports federations themselves have never dictated to the IOC.

“The most important thing would be the West Indies coming together but even that is potentially a problem as we can never agree on anything in the Caribbean.

“I would hope the Caribbean islands would see it in a way that gives them the chance to win an Olympic gold medal. They might see the chance of national glory and I would like to think that would be the case.”

Richardson may say 2024 is the target but it remains to be seen whether either Paris or Los Angeles would propose cricket for the programme should they be successful with their respective bid for the Games. If the IOC choose to take a path never trodden by awarding both the 2024 and 2028 editions in Lima in September, cricket may not become associated with the Five Rings until 2032 at the earliest.

“Realistically it is not going to happen in 2024 as cricket is not a big sport in Paris or Los Angeles and they aren’t likely to request it,” said Peterkin.

“I just don’t think either Paris or Los Angeles would request it. It will only become a pressure movement if the host city is in a cricket-playing country.”

IOC member Richard Peterkin believes there is little chance of cricket featuring at the 2024 Olympics ©Getty Images
IOC member Richard Peterkin believes there is little chance of cricket featuring at the 2024 Olympics ©Getty Images

Richardson, however, disagrees. The ICC chief executive feels neither the French capital nor the American city would be a “disaster” but would instead provide an opportunity for the sport to grow into previously unchartered territory to help with the collective aim to expand cricket’s reach worldwide.

Whether this is classic sports official spin, attempting to turn a negative into a plus point, or a genuine belief remains to be seen.

It is difficult to imagine how officials from Paris 2024 or Los Angeles 2024 would see the benefit of catering for a sport which is barely played in their respective country, but cricket could still find its way on to the programme at either Games as part of a compromise with the IOC.

If the rumour-mill is to believed, Tokyo 2020 were thought to be especially keen on having karate and baseball softball and agreed to take on the other three sports to appease those over at the IOC. The Lausanne-based body would surely see cricket through dollar-signed eyes as it offers perhaps their best-ever shot at tapping into the potentially lucrative Indian market.

Indian acceptance is vital to cricket’s chances, according to another IOC member in Barry Maister. But the New Zealander admits it remains a distant dream for the sport to become part of the Olympic family.

“Personally I think it will be a long shot to see cricket on the programme but I suspect there would be good support from New Zealand,” Maister told insidethegames, before he went on to point out three “obvious issues”.

“Are there sufficient countries at the elite level to be a credible Olympic event?

“India previously opposed involvement of cricket in the Commonwealth Games programme. Being the major influence in world cricket, I assume their ‘approval' would be necessary.”

Maister also raised another stumbling block – the fact that the global cricket calendar is packed enough as it is. Is there room for another international event? And will players really see an Olympic tournament as the pinnacle?

This was flagged by Richardson last year when he compared cricket featuring at the Games to golf, whose Olympic return after a 112-year hiatus at Rio 2016 was plagued by a number of withdrawals from the top stars in the men’s game.

The approval of India is thought to be a key obstacle to cricket's Olympic bid ©Getty Images
The approval of India is thought to be a key obstacle to cricket's Olympic bid ©Getty Images

The year 2024 provides its own logistical challenge as an Ashes series in England is scheduled for that summer. Despite this, officials within the English and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) are privately retaining their stance of support for cricket’s Olympic bid.

“Cricket has a very full continuous international programme,” said Maister.

“Would the top players all be available at one time? This is a necessary requirement for this to happen.”

While several obstacles remain, Twenty20 cricket is largely considered to be a perfect fit for the Games. Its fast-paced format suits the spectacle, in similar vein to rugby sevens' heralded debut at Rio 2016, and the sport has a rare knack of catering to both the younger and older generation.

If the hurdles cannot be cleared, however, cricket's Olympic relationship may remain consigned to the history books.