CATALYST FOR GROWTH
Cricket West Indies (CWI) Chief Executive Officer Johnny Grave is optimistic about the possibilities for the growth of the game globally with its inclusion in the Los Angeles Olympic Games in 2028 (LA 2028).
Grave says the International Cricket Council (ICC) has a strategic plan for cricket, with one of its key pillars being growing the game globally. He says the Olympic Games is the right tool because it has a large market and viewership.
“The Olympics is an amazing event, particularly in markets where cricket isn’t strong — the Olympics is everything,” Grave told the Jamaica Observer on Friday. “If we’re serious about growing the game and we’re serious about growing the game outside of its traditional playing countries and Test-playing nations, then the Olympic Games is an amazing opportunity and shop window for the sport to showcase itself in those big, new territories — particularly in Asia, countries like China, and in South America, North America the Olympics is massive.”
Grave is not worried that cricket will become one of those Olympic sports that only generate interest every four years. His reason is that there is always a major cricket tournament or tour being broadcast somewhere in the world, and also the two formats of the World Cup — One-Day International (ODI) and Twenty20 (T20) — for the men’s and women’s games.
Although cricket is played at the highest level in the region by the West Indies teams, they will not compete at the Games. Should they qualify, it would instead be the various territories that make up the West Indies that would have representation. This is similar to the structure of the Birmingham Commonwealth Games last year. This is the practical approach if medals are to be apportioned, since it is the various territories that are member nations of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and not the region as a whole.
But Grave says CWI still has an important role in the process.
“In the case of the Commonwealth Games, the winner of our regional tournament, Barbados, represented the West Indies there,” Grave said. “We don’t know at this stage, and while the IOC has confirmed that cricket will be at the Olympics, it hasn’t confirmed how many teams and what’s the cap.
“With the Olympic Games, there’s also the pressure on the number of venues, number of athletes in the Olympic Village, so we don’t yet know how many teams will be in the men’s and women’s versions. We know it’s going to be T20 and we know there’s going to be a men’s and women’s tournament, but until we know the number of teams and the qualifying criteria: Is it going to be regional qualifiers or rankings? Those conversations have not yet happened.”
Grave says there was an ICC meeting in Ahmedabad, India, over a week ago, at which it was said that details on the structure of cricket’s representation at LA 2028 will be known by the end of 2024.
One of the IOC’s main objectives is inclusivity of sport, meaning it aims for as many nations participating in its Games. This presents the possibility of new teams trying to compete in cricket, much like Jamaica entered bobsledding at the Calgary Winter Olympics in 1988. Grave is eager to see this happen, especially within the Caribbean region, saying this is the start of growing the game in new markets.
“I guess there are already what some people would class as Caribbean countries that aren’t part of the West Indies — you think of Turks and Caicos, The Bahamas, and various others,” he said. “In that respect, that’s kind of what the game of cricket is hoping for — other countries that aren’t traditional cricketing countries inspired by the Olympics, wanting to participate and start having programmes, play more cricket and build their way up the ICC rankings so they can qualify for world events as well.
“Next year in the Caribbean and the USA we’re going to have a 20-team T20 World Cup. The game is growing. This edition of the ODI World Cup was 10 teams, the next is going to be 14.
“In the women’s version of the game teams like Thailand have beaten traditional Test-playing nations. The game is growing, there are new territories playing, and that’s great for the sport. We are the second-biggest sport, in terms of numbers and viewership, but we’re probably not in terms of participation of countries that have really robust and high playing numbers.
Grave says Jamaica has what he describes as a rich Olympic heritage and he hopes it can inspire youngsters to seek greatness there as well, but through cricket. From there, he hopes they can transition to the more lucrative areas of cricket and have similar lifestyles to that of Jamaica’s cricketing icons such as Chris Gayle and Andre Russell.
“Cricket is probably the most lucrative of the sports talented Jamaicans can participate in, in both the men’s and women’s formats,” he said. “Usain Bolt, and probably a few others, would be the outliers over the last decade or so, but if you think about it in the context of Russell and Gayle, there are million-dollar cricketers across the men’s game and probably in short order, there’ll be millionaire female cricketers.”
Grave says this is especially possible with Brisbane, Australia, being confirmed as the host of the 2032 Games and India bidding to have one of its cities host the 2036 Games. If successful, it would mean LA 2028 would be succeeded by two nations with rich cricketing heritage, and Grave says it would be hard to see cricket excluded at those Games.
“The challenge cricket has as a sport is that it requires very expensive equipment, especially the hard-ball version,” he said. “You also need a pitch that has taken an awful lot of hard work, money, love, science. It’s an art to create a really good playing surface that gives you a good balance between bat and ball. We as Cricket West Indies hope that one of the legacies of hosting the T20 World Cup is improving on those facilities in not only the host countries but also that all of the West Indies countries can continue to invest in facilities, and we’re certainly looking to partner with governments and the private sector to ensure that we have the facilities that can inspire our best players to want to train hard, work, and hone their skills. The rest of the world is doing that with better and better facilities. In the Caribbean and in the West Indies we need to continue to up our game and prioritise facilities as one of the most important components of our cricket infrastructure and system.”
This collaboration Grave speaks about would also include dialogue with the Jamaica Olympic Association (JOA), whose Secretary General Ryan Foster recently told the JOA that they stand ready to assist the Jamaica Cricket Association with its plans for a qualification campaign.