ICC bowls right line in resisting IOC's gold lure

RICHARD BOOCK
Last updated 05:00 03/03/2013
Brendon McCullum
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NO OLYMPIC HOPE: Cricket already has enough on its plate without Olympic participation, says Richard Boock.

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OPINION: Thank heavens for the International Cricket Council. Now there's a line I never expected to write. When it comes to the notion of joining the Olympic movement however, the game's governing body is right to be guarded, if not downright sceptical. Hopefully it won't read too much into the MCC's short-sighted support of the idea. Wasn't so long ago, after all, that MCC sub-committee chair Steve Waugh wanted lie detector tests for all players.

Cricket, of course, has been on the IOC's radar for the past few years. They'd love to get their fat little fingers into it, and for reasons that have nothing to do with spreading the sporting gospel. As with most items on the IOC agenda, the name of the game is about making money, and as much money as possible. What better way to stay relevant than generating filthy amounts of lucre?

Why cricket? In short, the Indian broadcasting rights market. No need to look further than that, really. India have one of the most lucrative markets in the world but have never fully bought into the Olympics. The nation had their best return in London last year with six medals, none of which were gold. But cricket? That would be a game-changer and the IOC knows it. To include T20 at the Olympics would be to tap into a broadcasting rights gold mine.

No-one should doubt this as the driving motive. During the past decade, the IOC has unashamedly poured its energy into expanding its broadcasting rights' windfalls. Over the four years from 2009 to 2012 it posted a record US$5 billion in revenue, an increase of 50 per cent on the previous quadrennium. Of that, US$3.9b came from TV income. More recently it sold the Games' 2014 and 2016 rights to the BBC for a reported US$100m.

Nothing wrong with making money, of course. Only problem is, while the IOC would laugh all the way to the bank if T20 was to become an Olympic sport, cricket and the ICC would unquestionably be the losers. Everyone agrees on this point, even the misguided souls on the MCC's cricket committee. Participation would not only mean a direct reduction in revenue, it would also diminish the rights value of the ICC's other tournaments, such as the Cricket World Cup.

There are other issues, too. Cricket's involvement in the Games would mean another enormous disruption to northern hemisphere competitions. India, widely regarded as the agenda-setter in the ICC, would be worried about the effect on their annual IPL extravaganza. Professional cricketers would have to put aside intellectual property rights agreements and accept draconian IOC criteria instead. Never mind the workload issue.

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Yes, the MCC has talked about the long-term benefits of Olympic participation and the need to grow the game. With respect, the ICC already has (and is helping to develop cricket in) 106 member nations, including China, the United States and 34 countries in Europe. To reduce funding for those programmes in exchange for a chance to play in the Olympics makes about as much sense as Gareth Morgan's thoughts on football.

Anyway, long-term benefits? Are we certain of that? Seems the biggest concern over Olympic participation is the risk of diluting the credibility and value of stand-alone tournaments. That's why football refused to take the chance of diminishing its iconic World Cup; instead restricting Olympic involvement to a mixture of under-23 players and some seniors. Hockey, in contrast, has seen its World Cup utterly dwarfed by the Olympic contest.

And yes, there is a parochial interest in this argument. Damned right there is. It might be fine for those four ICC member nations who draw revenues of about $250m a year to dream of Olympic trinkets, even if it means less ICC money to disperse around the world. But for the other six who struggle along on $50m per annum, every dollar is critical. International cricket has already split into a contest between the haves and the have-nots. This would just make it worse.

The ICC has called for a feasibility study. Hopefully, it will continue to tread warily. Cricket's calendar is already jam-packed with money-spinning tournaments such as the CWC, the Champions Trophy, the World T20 and the IPL. When the world test championship eventually gets up and running there'll be even less time for Olympic grandstanding. Potted story? The IOC (outside its fondness for making a buck) doesn't need cricket.

And cricket? It certainly doesn't need the IOC.

email: rboock@xtra.co.nz

- Sunday Star Times

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