Exclusive: Cricket could return to Olympics with six-team T20 competition

In Olympic Games

Cricket could return to the Olympics at the Los Angeles Games in 2028 with a six-team Twenty20 competition in both the men’s and women’s game.

The International Cricket Council has proposed rejoining the Games after an 128-year absence as it has long been considered a crucial way to globalise cricket. In most countries, funding for sport is concentrated upon Olympic sports, meaning that such funding has been closed off to cricket.

Alongside the 28 sports in the initial sports programme for Los Angeles 2028, cricket is one of nine other sports shortlisted for inclusion. A final decision on which sports will feature will come next year, with the core programme of sports expected to be finalised around September.

The ICC has proposed a six-team event with squads expected to be 14 per team, which will keep athlete numbers down. It is understood that the men’s and women’s events could be played after each other – rather than concurrently – which would be a way to limit costs.

The envisaged format would be of two groups of three with the top two teams advancing to the semi-finals. There would then be the final – the battle for the gold medal – and a third-placed play-off, which would determine who claimed bronze.

Although the Olympics takes place during the English summer – the LA Games is scheduled for July 14-30 – England have indicated that they support Olympic inclusion. The disruption to the English domestic summer would be minimal, with both the men’s and women’s events likely to last around a week.

England would compete as a Great Britain side – meaning that the England side could potentially be supplemented by players from Scotland, such as Mark Watt, and theoretically even Northern Ireland cricketers. The England & Wales Cricket Board, as well as Cricket Scotland and Cricket Ireland, have all made clear their support for an Olympic bid.

ICC proposes six teams determined by world rankings

For LA 2028, the ICC has proposed the six teams being determined by world rankings. While this would mean no global qualification system, it would ensure that matches could be presented as genuinely being ‘best v best’. 

The teams would be genuinely full-strength national representative sides, rather than underage sides or a variant of the format used in football in the Olympics – U23 sides, with three overage players per side permitted.

India, England, Pakistan, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia currently occupy the top six berths in the men’s rankings. In the women’s rankings, the top six spots are occupied by Australia, England, New Zealand, India, South Africa and West Indies.

The prominent position of India in both sets of T20 rankings means that they would be highly likely to qualify for both events. This is considered important for cricket’s chances of inclusion, as the Olympics have struggled for popularity in South Asia and the global appeal of sports is a major factor in which sports are added to the LA 28 programme. 

Gender equity is also a major consideration of LA 28, which could count in cricket’s favour after the rise of the women’s game in recent years.

The Caribbean islands would not compete as the West Indies, but as individual nations instead. In the Commonwealth Games, West Indies won one slot through the qualification system. The representative was then determined by a competition between the nations, which was won by Barbados. While such details remain to be worked out, the same system could be used for the Olympic Games if West Indies occupied one of the top six slots in the rankings.

The Olympics has always been adamant that sports should feature the leading athletes in their sport playing in a globally recognised format. In practice this has meant that cricket’s only realistic chance of Olympic inclusion has been through the T20 format, although some have advocated alternate formats – T10, the Hundred or even six-a-side.  

Yet there remain significant obstacles to cricket’s inclusion in Los Angeles. Los Angeles plans to admit no more than two additional sports to the games. And if modern pentathlon and boxing increase their athlete numbers, that could limit the number of extra sports to one or even none.

The Local Organising Committee has been meeting with all nine candidate sports. A delegation watched the women’s cricket event at this year’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. Many within the sport hoped that cricket featuring in the Commonwealth Games – for the first time since 1998 and just the second time ever – would be an indication of its suitability for multi-sport events, aiding its return to the Olympic Games.

Read More: Exclusive: Cricket could return to Olympics with six-team T20 competition

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