Cricket

Olympic approval could benefit cricket's development in Japan

by Jay Dansinghani

Contributing writer

As of May 18, Kyushu resident Kane Tanaka is the oldest living person in the world at 117 years and 137 days. Even she was too young to have seen cricket's only Summer Games appearance back in the 1900 Paris Olympics.

With up to 1.2 billion fans residing in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, the Summer Olympics can help grow cricket, the world’s second most popular sport with an estimated global fan base of 2.5 billion, beyond its traditional commonwealth outposts.

Meanwhile, from the International Olympic Committee's perspective, cricket’s inclusion could boost modest TV views in the aforementioned Indian subcontinent, which makes up nearly a quarter of the world’s population.

Both sides stand to benefit from cricket’s return to the Olympics. Yet the sport will not feature in Tokyo or in the 2024 Games in Paris.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India, Indian cricket’s governing body, has long feared losing its autonomy to the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA).

Up until August 2019, the BCCI had outsourced the collection of doping samples to the Sweden-based International Dope Testing Management (IDTM), which then forwarded them to the National Dope Testing Laboratory (NDTL) in New Delhi.

Despite the NDTL being accredited by the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA), the samples of Indian cricketers had to be collected by NADA in order for the Indian Olympic Authority to comply with WADA rules and maintain the right to send a team to the Olympics.

The BCCI’s hesitation around WADA compliance, however, was fueled by the “whereabouts clause.” Under this clause, each athlete is required to detail three specific dates in a year when they are not competing, but are available to have dope test samples collected. The BCCI viewed this as a privacy issue that posed a security threat for its cricketers.

With the Indian market generating an estimated 70 percent of the International Cricket Council’s (ICC’s) revenue, cricket could not have launched a bid for Olympic inclusion without the blessings of the influential BCCI.

Fortunately, there is hope.

In August 2019, the BCCI — mandated by Indian Supreme Court reforms aimed at stamping out corruption and promoting transparent governance — finally came under the authority of NADA.

This has paved the way for India’s female cricketers to appear in an eight-team Commonwealth Games tournament in 2022, marking only the second time that cricket will feature at the event.

The BCCI and ICC seem closer than ever to making a bid for the 2028 Games in LA, in which case they will most likely favor the T20 format — a digestible three-hour version of the sport.

However, this is where cricket’s Olympic ambitions hit yet another BCCI-inspired roadblock.

The BCCI runs its own annual T20 domestic league called the Indian Premier League (IPL). The IPL is by far the most popular and the most lucrative T20 domestic league in the world.

Historically, the BCCI has been wary of competing T20 events diluting the IPL’s commercial value to broadcasters, so much so that they don’t allow Indian players to play in any non-Indian domestic T20 leagues. This deprives those leagues of large-scale exposure to the massive Indian market, thereby ensuring that they cannot outgrow the IPL.

Smaller cricket boards like the Japan Cricket Association (JCA), which is unable to access government funding reserved for Olympic sports, have struggled to grow cricket without the sport’s inclusion in the Olympics.

To make matters worse, smaller so-called “associate” nations barely get any game time against “Full Members” like India, Australia and England, reducing their chances of commercial success. Shockingly, only 16 and 10 teams can qualify for cricket’s 50-over and 20-over World Cups, respectively.

Furthering this cycle of inequality is that India, with an estimated $51 million per year, pockets a lion’s share of ICC’s annual grants.

By contrast, the combined grants allocated to the ICC’s 93 associate nations total approximately $20-25 million per year — less than half of what the BCCI receives by itself.

Speaking to The Japan Times, JCA CEO Naoki Alex Miyaji revealed that the JCA rakes in close to $1 million per year primarily through ICC funding, sponsorships and subscriptions. While he was tight-lipped on how much of this comes from the ICC, the figure is likely to be in the region of $200,000 to $400,000 per year.

Miyaji estimates that if cricket did indeed become an Olympic sport, this would unlock approximately $50,000 in funding from the Japanese Olympic Committee regardless of whether Japan’s cricket teams qualified for the Olympic events. This would be supplemented by further funding for a high performance program.

Given how the same scorecard used for JOC grants determines Japan Sport Council grants, this would unlock support for infrastructure, facility development and local expansion programs.

Furthermore, the Japan Sport Association would finally fund cricket’s inclusion at the Japan Sports Festival, giving it the exposure it needs to reach the masses.

Miyaji, although optimistic about cricket’s chances of making it to the 2028 Games, warns that cricket cannot be halfhearted in its commitment to the Olympics.

“(The IOC) don’t want a sport that only puts half of its foot into the Olympics… the baseball tournament is something they would love if they had the major league players in it, but they don’t,'' Miyaji said. "The IOC wants the Olympics to be the pinnacle of each sport. We’ve got the World Cup, and that’s going to be the pinnacle of cricket… how to balance that out is the hard thing.

"It’s just a matter of the BCCI. If India agrees for cricket to become an Olympic sport, it will become an Olympic sport. The IOC wants cricket. They want India playing in the Olympics. And cricket needs it as well.”

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