How Virat Kohli and the T20 Generation Won the Olympic Nod for Cricket

The marketing wizards on the Los Angeles Olympic Games 2028 Organising Committee did not need much to realise that cricket, with its status as the second-most followed sport in the world, was an obvious choice to be included in the programme. As its proposal to have five new sports found approval in the IOC Session in Mumbai on Monday, LA28’s homework shone bright.

Cricket staged a comeback to the Olympic Games programme, 123 years after Britain beat France in the 1900 Games in Paris. Though the International Cricket Council (ICC) history dates back more than a century, it has been a part of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) fold only since 2010, and has finally found acceptance in an Olympic Games.

The London Games in 2012 had frozen its sports programme well before the ICC was recognised by IOC. It was understandable that Rio de Janeiro (2016), Tokyo (2020) and Paris (2024) did not pitch for cricket. And though the United States of America is not yet a major cricket-playing nation, the diversity of Los Angeles and the marketing gurus drew LA28 towards the sport.

Casey Wasserman, Los Angeles 2028 Chair, agreed that it seemed odd that a sport with 2.5 billion followers was not on the Olympic programme earlier. “From the very beginning, cricket has been on the list of sports that we had started to think about,” he said. “As we went through the processes, it was obvious that we would be making a mistake if we didn’t include it.”

There was hardly any opposition in the IOC Session to the Los Angeles Committee’s proposal to offer a package of five sports – Baseball & Softball, Cricket, Flag Football, Lacrosse and Squash – which had found the support of the IOC Olympic Programme Commission and the IOC Executive Board.

The Los Angeles Committee spoke of its attempt to take American sports (Baseball & Softball, Flag Football and Lacrosse) to the world and introduce global sport (Cricket and Squash), to the Americans. Be that as it may, it is also clear that it has taken a punt, expecting revenues from the sale of broadcast and streaming rights in the sub-continent to increase manifold.

John Harper, LA28 Chief Operations Officer, said the team asked itself how it could innovate, how it can have the biggest impact, how it can be more engaging, and how it can be as relevant as possible. “The package of new sports LA28 has proposed addresses these questions, reflects our city, our brand and the world,” he said.

“It will be a huge stage. Our objective over the last two years as we collaborated with the IOC and the International Federations was to align our proposal with the LA28 vision centred around four main themes – innovation, co-creation to grow the movement in the US and internationally, relevance and responsibility.”

If evidence was needed about how the LA28 team had thought through the commercial aspects of the package, it was presented by Harper who spoke of fiscal responsibility without sacrificing the ‘immense opportunity’. “Our package will be economically neutral or positive to our budget,” he said. “We are thrilled to propose this highly engaging, gender-balanced sports programme.”

Why in Los Angeles? Nicolas Campriani, LA28 Sports Director and an Olympic champion himself, asked and addressed the question when the LA team was making a presentation to the IOC Members. “The T20 format makes the game fast, full of action and a feeling to the younger crowd,” he said. “We are thrilled to welcome the world’s second-most popular sport.

“My friend Virat (Kohli) is the third-most followed athlete on social media, with 314 million followers. That’s more than LeBron James, Tom Brady and Tiger Woods combined,” added Campriani, with a large image of India’s batting star on the giant screen. “This is the ultimate win-win-win for LA28, IOC and the cricket community.”

It would be up to ICC and its member boards to ensure that cricket does not vanish from the radar now because of the uncertainty. Together, they will have to assure the presence of the world’s best cricketers, men and women, at the Olympic Games. The IOC is well aware of how cricket competitions in multi-discipline events have not always seen teams at full strength.

Asked at the press conference if the constant reference to the need for the best players to be competing in Los Angeles meant there was some doubt, Thomas Bach, the IOC President, said it was a hypothetical question at the moment. “We believe that the best players have expressed keen interest in competing in the Olympic Games,” he said.

“Everything came together,” Bach responded when asked why it had taken 123 years for cricket to be back on the Olympic programme. The IOC President indicated that it was the Twenty20 format which caught the imagination. “I can’t speak for earlier years, but cricket has evolved over the recent years in India and beyond.”














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