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By Simran Bhogle

Played in suspenders and collared shirts, the first and only instance of cricket in the Olympic Games occurred in the 1900 Summer Olympics in Paris before it was “retired out”. More than a century later, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced the return of cricket in the 2028 Los Angeles (LA) Olympic Games. (1)

But what led to cricket’s sudden comeback? There are a multitude of reasons, ranging from the sport’s huge fanbase to its adaptability for modern-day audiences. The 2023 ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup garnered 300 million viewers across the globe, which highlights the sport’s potential marketability to the broader global population. (2) Much of this audience would follow cricketers to LA in 2028 to witness their dream game on sport’s biggest international stage.

Following the rise of franchise cricket – especially USA’s very own Major League Cricket – and the fact that cricket’s market is represented largely by a handful of commonwealth countries, the LA Olympics has an enormous potential to capture an even greater global audience and earn record-breaking revenue through the inclusion of T20 cricket.

(1) https://olympics.com/en/news/why-cricket-olympics-1900-paris-games-commonwealth-athletes-cricketers

(2) https://www.firstpost.com/firstcricket/sports-news/cricket-world-cup-2023-most-watched-edition-in-india-13424512.html

Twenty20 or T20, is a condensed format of the game which lasts three hours on average. It is believed to be the format that will appeal to new cricket consumers in an action-packed and exciting way. Rather than watching a test match that may last up to five days with tea breaks in between play and defensive shots on repeat, viewers can tune in to exhilarating T20 matches to see rhythmic and effortless pull shots on 90 MPH deliveries aimed at batters’ heads, scoop shots that look like suicidal experiments, and physics-defying catches at the boundary rope.

Despite the certainty of cricket in the 2028 Olympic Games, there is still mystery regarding the countries that will be participating. Currently, it is estimated that six men’s and six women’s teams will partake in the competition.3 It is unsure whether the USA team will receive automatic qualification as host but the IOC will confirm the Olympic qualification process in 2025.(3)

Anika Kolan is a player on the USA Women’s National Team. Through an exciting collaboration with the International Cricket Council (ICC) and the IOC, she narrated a video on cricket’s inclusion in the Olympics which received nearly a million views to-date. The opportunity to be involved in such a significant announcement provides a huge boost and visibility not just for USA Cricket, the national governing body for the sport, but for American involvement in the sport.

Anika Kolan during the Olympics video shoot at the Dubai International Stadium. Photo Credit: ICC Cricket

(3) https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/olympics/2023/10/20/cricket-new-olympic-sports-2028/71206060007/

In the video, she talks about the global reach of cricket and how much the game has evolved from a gender and diversity perspective.
Kolan starts the video, “Cricket. The gentleman’s game. Played by men in white. Wrong!” Then she restarts, “Cricket. A game for men and women. A game of skill and strategy. A game for the 21st century.”

The video shows male and female players from across the world who play today. Cricket has changed immensely over the years, and I was able to understand more through an interview with Anika Kolan herself.

She described the invigorating experience of recording the video at the Dubai Ring of Fire Stadium: it was a “surreal opportunity” and she was ecstatic to visit the “back-ends” of the stadium.

Anika Kolan in the ICC/IOC Olympic video shoot at the Dubai International Stadium. Photo Credit: Nadia Gruny

Along with the ICC and USA Cricket, she told me about the honor to talk about Virat Kohli: one of today’s record-breaking cricketers. Although it is not in the shortened version of the released video, Kolan told me how excited she was to mention, “Take a look at my friend Virat here; he has more followers than Tom Brady, Lebron James, and Tiger Woods combined!”

This tidbit shows the magnitude of the cricket market in comparison to the world’s leading sports market. Bringing the two markets together has the potential to make the LA 2028 Games, the biggest ever in the history of the Olympics.

Kolan also alludes to a second video shoot she did with the ICC which includes narrations by “male and female cricketers from England, South Africa, and more.” Kolan hopes it will be released. “It’s great media coverage to show how many countries are involved [and] how many people are rooting for this.”

Kolan sees cricket’s inclusion in the Olympics as an opportunity for the sport to receive its own identity. “Rather than remaining known as a different form of baseball or softball, this will likely draw in new faces with interest in the sport,” says Kolan.

With new audience members tuning in for the games and a better outlook for the future, women cricketers will experience a level of support not seen before. “This will also support women’s cricket because stronger pathways will be formed for female athletes and we will have a great platform to showcase our talents.”

Kolan hopes the USA will have the opportunity to compete in this once in a lifetime event and is prepared to take this opportunity with both arms wrapped around it. She notes the difficulty in balancing school with cricket, but is prepared to make the sacrifices in order to grow as much as possible and be ready for the biggest stage in sport.

I also spoke to Isani Vaghela, another player on the USA Women’s National Team. Like Kolan, she is excited by the possibilities of “increased visibility and participation for the sport here in [the] USA as well as globally.” In Vaghela’s words, women’s cricket in the Olympics will take the sport to new heights beyond the popularity levels of tournaments such as the Women’s World Cup and WBBL.”

Isani Vaghela hits a cover drive at the 2022 USA Women’s U19 Tournament. Credit: Ganesh Krishnamurthy.

On a personal level, cricket in the Olympics brings a dream to life for Vaghela. “I’ve always dreamed of cricket being a major sport in the US,” says Vaghela.

There is no doubt that inclusion in the Olympics will bring a higher level of awareness to the game in the US. The idea of seeing this sport spread across the nation makes her participation all the more worthwhile. “[It] motivates me to train even harder,” says Vaghela.

Through the eyes of this generation of USA-born cricketers like Kolan and Vaghela, many fans of the sport will be looking on with unabated excitement to see this dream of cricket in the Olympics become a reality and in no better place than the USA.

With cricket’s comeback in the 2028 Summer Olympic Games, maybe it was never “retired out”. It was just waiting for the right moment to strike again.

#WeAreUSACricket