TWENTY20 FOR LONDON OLYMPICS 2012?

lords-t20-final

Last Sunday, on a glorious evening at Lords, with its new floodlights and its immediate neighbourhood brought alive in manner that is not customary in St John’s Wood, we saw the successful conclusion of the ICC Twenty20 cricket World Cup, with Pakistan beating the Sri Lankans. Half of the tournament had been staged in London, with matches divided between the Oval and Lords, and it was fitting that it should close at the ground where it had opened less than three weeks earlier, with the unexpected victory of Holland over England in a dramatic final over.

That opening match boded well for the events that would unfold over the next few weeks. The tournament featured fielding and catching that was routinely breathtaking; umpires who got most things right; the example of Ireland giving encouragement to amateur cricketers all around the world; and England’s victory in the parallel women’s tournament. Completed in less than 18 days, the competition left the fans wanting more.

Quality was the key, and we saw the return of traditional skills like wicket keeping and spin bowling in all its variations, as teams realised that the biff-bang approach doesn’t always work. And London showed what an excellent sporting venue it is, with fans of every nation embracing and enjoying Twenty20 – rather more so than some of the more conservative MCC members, it must be said.

London is the historic home of cricket, and the “spirit of the game” now enshrined in the official rules by the MCC embodies the Olympic ideal of fair play. So hosting the Olympic Games in 2012 can provide the capital with an ideal opportunity to showcase cricket, allowing it to reach a much wider global audience, while in return increasing the appeal of the Olympics amongst cricketing nations that don’t engage as fully with traditional athletics.

Leading cricketers such as Gilchrist, Waugh, Dravid and others have been promoting the inclusion of Twenty20 cricket as a “full” Olympic sport in the 2020 Olympics, under the catchy slogan “Twenty20 for 2020”. As a prelude to that it would be useful if cricket were part of the Games in London 2012 in some form.

In the past, the host Olympic nation has introduced a “demonstration” sport as part of the Games, with the aim that this should become an official Olympic sport in future years. This changed with the removal of demonstration sports at the Beijing Olympics, so host cities are now showcasing local sports as part of the “Cultural Olympiad”.

During the Beijing Olympics “Wushu”, an exhibition and full contact sport derived from traditional Chinese martial arts, was incorporated into the Cultural Olympiad. So if the Chinese can have Wushu, l can’t see why we shouldn’t have cricket in its Twenty20 version incorporated into the London Olympics, given that it is our summer cultural game.

Cricket has been part of the Games in the past – it was last played at the 1900 Olympics, when Great Britain beat France. So with a successful Twenty20 World Cup concluded last Sunday, isn’t it time to think about having cricket returning to the Olympics for 2012?

First published in West End Extra, 26 June 2009