Former England cricket captain Mike Gatting has never been one to shy away from a debate.
Back in 1987, in a Test match against Pakistan in Faisalabad, Gatting was involved in an unsavoury altercation with umpire Shakoor Rana, who had accused the Englishman of cheating.
Rana believed Gatting had illegally repositioned his fielder during the bowler’s run up, an allegation the player furiously denied.
What followed were images which sparked widespread outrage and, to the cricketing world, remain vivid.
The pair were seen shouting obscenities in each other’s face, with Rana – who was wearing a Pakistan shirt underneath his umpire’s jumper – and Gatting equally culpable of language laced with profanities.
It is an incident that still rankles the 60-year-old.
Now the chairman of the Marylebone Cricket Club’s (MCC) World Cricket Committee, Gatting has much more on his plate than disputes with umpires.
But there was a touch of the old feistiness present on the field that day in the Pakistani city in his comments this week on cricket’s protracted bid for a place on the Olympic programme.
Following a meeting of the Committee in Sydney, Gatting admitted he was “frustrated” with the ongoing trepidation of India, the sport’s main powerbroker, regarding any attempt at securing a place at the Games.
A statement from the MCC on their website went even further. “The World Cricket Committee believes that the game’s application to become an Olympic sport is gathering momentum and that the only remaining barrier is India’s reluctance to proceed,” it read.
India’s disinclination on the Olympics is nothing new. The country has been against the idea throughout this whole debate, which has seemingly been going on ever since the sport last featured at the Games in 1900.
Despite all the positive rhetoric coming from the International Cricket Council (ICC) and a horde of ex-players, including the likes of ex-Australian captain Ricky Ponting, little progress has been made. Until the Indian barrier is cleared, it is likely to remain that way.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) are not keen on seeing their power diluted, as would be the case if the sport was to ever become Olympic again.
Should the ICC succeed with its continued Olympic bid, the autonomy of the BCCI, something the organisation is desperate to keep, would be under threat as the body would fall under the purview of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA).
These are two governing bodies who have not exactly seen eye-to-eye over the years and the BCCI are clearly not willing to give up the considerable influence they currently yield.
Another important factor for the BCCI is the uncertainty as to how much financial benefit cricket being at the Olympics would bring to the sport in the country. The economic advantages for Indian cricket, and indeed worldwide, are not exactly opaque and the BCCI are likely to want clarity on this before they can back any attempt.
“There are a few things,” a BCCI official told the Indian Express. “One is, what would be our position with regard to the IOA - the Indian contingent goes to the Olympics under the aegis of the IOA and the cricket board might temporarily lose its autonomy.
“Then, participation in the Olympics might eat into our Future Tours Programme.
“Also, with the ICC World T20 to be played every four years, cricket in the Olympics might take the sheen off the ICC event and the global body could suffer a substantial loss of revenue. Its Member Boards in turn will be affected.”
There are plenty who do not disagree with the stance of the BCCI. Concerns among the cricket fraternity over the lack of global reach the sport supposedly has - the ICC only has 12 “full” members - and scheduling issues are among the main criticisms.
The fact that neither France nor the United States, host countries of the next two Summer Olympics after Tokyo 2020, are particularly strong cricketing nations is also a considerable cross in the negative column.
It is still unclear as to whether Paris 2024 or Los Angeles 2028 would propose cricket anyway, although there have been murmurings and hints from the former in recent months, which would make the entire debate obsolete.
Former Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara hinted Los Angeles 2028 is a “realistic target” for the sport’s inclusion, while hinting that discussions with the American city had already taken place. Paris 2024, he said, might come too soon.
Suggestions that the ICC should focus on Commonwealth Games inclusion before tackling an Olympic bid have also surfaced. But surely it would be too difficult to do both?
The Olympics, with its wider reach, would clearly be more beneficial but the Commonwealth Games are usually held in more cricket-friendly nations such as Australia, England and even India eight years ago, allaying any concerns over venues and interest.
“Cricket is an iconic Commonwealth sport, and the CGF would love to partner with the ICC to incorporate it into the medal events programme of a future Games,” CGF chief executive David Grevemberg said recently.
As with the Olympics, however, the feeling is not entirely mutual with – yep, you guessed it – India among the staunch opponents.
The discussions have even led to more radical proposals such as a mixed cricket tournament at Birmingham 2022. “Why not?” CGF President Louise Martin said last month and not entirely tongue-in-cheek.
It is understood further clarity on the BCCI’s Olympic position could be given to the ICC when the global governing body convenes for a Board meeting next month. At this rate, it appears unlikely the Indian organisation will change its tune.
Although the Indian question remains unresolved, there is still considerable optimism from those within the game, including current and former players, that the sport can make a sensational return to the programme in the near future.
“If cricket makes it into the Olympics, it has to be the best players and showcasing the sport for what it is,” Ponting said. “The players would want it because of how beneficial they would see that being for the game.”
Should cricket be an Olympic sport?— The Cricket Paper (@TheCricketPaper) January 10, 2018
A poll on the Twitter feed of the respected specialist publication The Cricket Paper showed a majority to be in favour, with 68 per cent of respondents for and 32 per cent against. A small sample, perhaps, but an indication that the public support is there.
Unfortunately, the public are not the important party here. It is up to the BCCI to decide the debate once and for all.