Published: 10:29, October 18, 2023 | Updated: 10:41, October 18, 2023
Cricket bowled over by Olympic-stage return
By China Daily

Sri Lanka's Dilshan Madushanka (center) celebrates taking an Australian wicket at the ICC Cricket World Cup in Lucknow, India, on Oct 16, 2023. (PHOTO / AP)

MUMBAI - Cricket's return to the Olympic program for the 2028 Los Angeles Games drew an enthusiastic response from around the world.

Cricket was one of five sports added to the LA Games by the International Olympic Committee on Monday. Flag football, baseball-softball, lacrosse and squash were also included. Organizers have proposed a six-team Twenty20 cricket competition — the shortest format of the game — for women and men in LA.

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"After a wait of more than a century, our beloved sport is back on the Olympic stage," former India captain Sachin Tendulkar wrote on X, the social-media platform formerly known as Twitter. "This marks the dawn of a new era for cricket as it will be a golden opportunity to foster inclusivity and showcase new talent from emerging cricketing nations. A start of something truly special!"

Monday's decision was made at an IOC meeting in Mumbai, the Indian city that will host five matches at the ongoing Cricket World Cup.

"Our beautiful game of cricket has a rich heritage and diverse international following," said Pakistan captain Babar Azam, the world's top-ranked one-day international batsman. "It has the potential to enhance the spirit of Olympics even further. Cricket in the Olympics will inspire (a) new generation, athletes and fans around the globe."

Cricket was last played at the Olympics in 1900, but the game is played at other multisport events like the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games. It is likely to be retained for the 2032 Brisbane Olympics, which will be held in cricket-loving Australia.

Cricket was last played at the Olympics in 1900, but the game is played at other multisport events like the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games. It is likely to be retained for the 2032 Brisbane Olympics, which will be held in cricket-loving Australia

"Players will get the chance to compete for an Olympic gold medal and be part of the Games, which will be so special," said Mithali Raj, a former India women's team captain. "It's also a chance for more fans around the world to enjoy our fantastic sport."

For the last two years, the International Cricket Council has been working extensively with the IOC for inclusion at the LA Games.

"To have the opportunity to showcase our great sport at the LA28 Games and hopefully many Olympic Games to come will be great for players and fans alike," ICC chairman Greg Barclay said.

READ MORE: Oscar winner Yeoh joins IOC along with seven new members

The ICC hoped the Olympics, which have an estimated audience of more than 3 billion, will provide an opportunity for cricket to "engage new audiences and further boost the sport's reach across the world, opening the door to a new generation of cricket enthusiasts."

Another Indian cricket great, Sunil Gavaskar, was also excited for the players to mingle with athletes from around the world.

"That is totally fantastic, isn't it?" Gavaskar said while commentating during Australia's cricket match against Sri Lanka. "What an experience it'll be for every team, and particularly the Indian team, to be able to see what the Olympic Village is like, to be able to spend time with other athletes, other champions."

In Australia, the governing body of the sport in the country praised the decision as a chance to expand further afield.

"This is a game-changer for our sport that is already among the fastest growing in the world," Cricket Australia chief executive Nick Hockley said. "The Olympic Games will undoubtedly increase the global reach of cricket, inspiring a whole new generation to love and play the game."

Cricket at the Los Angeles Olympics will be a six-team event for both men and women and will be played in the Twenty20 format.

Los Angeles organizing committee sports director Niccolo Campriani said the format will be "appealing to the younger crowd".

READ MORE: Cricket, flag football among five sports approved for 2028 Games

"We are thrilled to welcome the world's second-most popular sport with an estimated 2.5 billion fans worldwide," Campriani said. "Some of you might be wondering why in LA? Well, the commitment to grow cricket in the US is real, and it's already happening with the launch of the very first Major League Cricket season earlier this year, which exceeded all expectations. And the (men's) T20 World Cup in 2024 coming to US and West Indies."

'Powerful combination'

"It's a win-win situation," ICC chairman Barclay told reporters in Mumbai of cricket's inclusion in the LA 2028 program.

"We've got a global sport, what I think is the fastest-growing global sport, but getting onto the biggest sporting stage in the world, the Olympics, is a massive shot in the arm for the game," the New Zealander added.

Explaining the push for cricket's inclusion, Los Angeles 2028 chairman Casey Wasserman said: "We think the opportunity to bring a sport that has 2.5 billion rabid fans to what we think is the greatest sport city in the world, it's a really powerful combination."

Jay Shah, secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, welcomed "a momentous occasion" that "aligns" with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announcing on Saturday that India would bid to stage the 2036 Olympics.

"Moreover, we anticipate that this decision will yield significant financial dividends and have a profound positive impact on our sport's ecosystem," Shah said, with the decision to include cricket at LA 2028 estimated to increase the value of India's broadcasting rights for the IOC by over $100 million.

But IOC president Thomas Bach, speaking after Monday's IOC session, said any financial boost would be a "consequence".

"The first argument and the most important argument is we have seen the growing international importance of cricket and the Olympic Games want to incorporate the most popular sports worldwide," said Bach. "This sport (cricket) also has a growing importance in the United States."