Until the moment Justin Rose holed the putt that confirmed he was the gold medallist at Rio, golf definitely had no place in the Olympics. No way, Jose. The Olympics should be the pinnacle of a sport, not an event where the best players in the world (and Rory McIlroy, lolz) can’t even be bothered to show up. However seeing as decent an egg as Rose speak proudly and passionately about being an Olympian made us rethink; why shouldn’t a top class sporting operator at least get the chance to compete at an Olympiad?
Likewise, cricket has never seemed like a sport that could feature in the Olympics (well, not since 1900). Firstly, the pool of competitive teams is too small; secondly, the length of a match means most cricket tournaments last longer than your average orbit of the sun; thirdly, a decent cricket pitch takes time to be curated and few host cities are cricketing hotbeds. London could have managed it, archery at Lord’s notwithstanding, but places like Atlanta or Athens?
The Rio Olympics has had some memorable moments. Fiji winning a gold medal in rugby sevens was one of them – another sport that hitherto had felt like it need not be an Olympic event. It begs the question, could cricket somehow be incorporated? The rugby had 12 countries taking part, as did hockey. Football had 16. If a similar number of cricketing nations took part, it might work.
The obvious starting point is that the format should be T20, for logistical and popularity reasons. Now, we’ve never really been a big fan of T2oIs, as they are meaningless and forgotten within a week. Bilateral T20Is should be discarded from the cricketing calendar like your divorcee’s mother-in-law from facebook. Furthermore, as good as the World T20 can be, it takes place too often. Perhaps an Olympics could replace it. The interest would be there, particularly if T20Is were eradicated like they should be. With T20 cricket likely to end up a collection of franchised sides featuring globetrotting troubadours, getting players from each nation together in the same side once every four years will suddenly seem amazing.
The second issue is organisation. Where would they have played in Rio? At least Japan has baseball stadia. Assuming only 12 countries, men and women, arranged in three groups of four (ahead of semi-finals and finals) would require 44 matches across 15 days – something that would put immense pressure on groundsmen but would be possible across three grounds. Increasing the number of teams to 16, which would be preferable, would need at least a fourth ground (we can’t do the maths).
The downside to this is that suddenly the most accessible format of the game is competing against more than 20 other sports for attention. Having cricket being played for 12 hours a day across a fortnight may appeal to some, but it won’t be ideal for the television audience. Part of the Olympic charm is channel-surfing to catch random sports. The desired focus on cricket would inevitably be diluted. Who wouldn’t rather watch a Russian do this, than Eoin Morgan score 13 runs from 24 balls?
Further complications arise from the likely competitors. The Test playing nations (full members of the ICC) would expect to take place automatically, but one of the purposes of being in the Olympics would be too enhance the sport globally; in fact, this would be the primary objective. Qualifying competitions between the Associate and Affiliate members might work, giving ‘Team GB’ the perfect opportunity to lose to the Netherlands once again.
Nonetheless, there is one major flaw. The West Indies represent 11 countries that have Olympic Associations. Splitting up the Windies into their component nations would inevitably produce weaker teams that would struggle to compete against India or Australia (unless the matches were being played in seaming and spinning conditions respectively. Does anyone know how pitches in Tokyo will play?).
Sadly therefore, although we would love to see Joe Root with a gold medal around his neck, and Afghanistan pip India to bronze, this might just be the worst idea anyone has had since the producers invited Ravi Bopara onto Pointless.