LA 2028 new Olympic sports decision delayed: Why Cricket could get nod over baseball or flag football

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) Wednesday postponed the naming of additional sports proposed for the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic Games, pushing the highly anticipated announcement from Friday (September 8) to a later date that has yet to be set.

Afghanistan vs. Sri Lanka at Cricket Asia Cup 2023 (ICC Photo)
Afghanistan vs. Sri Lanka at Cricket Asia Cup 2023 (ICC Photo)

The Executive Board was set to hear recommendations from the Olympic Program Commission and LA 2028, and those potential new sports would be put in front of the IOC membership for rubberstamping at a Session from October 15-17 in Mumbai, India.

“Due to ongoing discussions between the IOC and the [LA 2028] Organizing Committee, the Olympic Program Commission has not yet had the opportunity to hold its meeting to prepare its final recommendation for the IOC EB. As a consequence, the sports program for the Olympic Games LA28 will be discussed during a later IOC EB meeting, to take place at a date to be decided,” a statement by the IOC Media Relations Team read.

Friday’s meeting agenda had been distributed September 1 and included an item to discuss the sports program at LA 2028.

Stakeholders, including the IOC and LA 2028, are facing a difficult decision that may have been made more challenging by recent rumors that staging cricket at the Games could result in a multi-million dollar broadcast windfall for the IOC and additional market opportunities in India.

The Times reported that a source expects the value of broadcast rights in India to increase tenfold – from $20 million (£16 million) for Paris 2024 to $200 million (£160 million) for LA – should cricket, the most popular sport in the world’s most populous nation be contested at the Games. The proposed T20 format of the sport was created to be more television-friendly and suitable for the Olympics.

In all, nine sports have approached LA 2028 to be added to the program including breaking, kickboxing, karate, squash, motorsports – and team sports cricket, baseball/softball, flag football and lacrosse. There is no limit on how many options LA can name, but organizers must adhere to the overall quota of 10,500 athletes – down from the 11,400 that participated at Tokyo 2020. Those numbers work against the inclusion of team sports.

When the IOC locked in a set of traditional core sports that are expected to appear at every Olympic Games, it offered organizers the opportunity to name additional sports that are regionally popular and can be accommodated with existing venues to keep costs low. That’s why the sports of baseball and softball were included at the Tokyo 2020 Games where unique stadiums and a passionate fan base exists – but will not be staged in Paris next year.

However, America’s favorite pastime will surely be included where the most iconic baseball venue in the world stands and in a state that boasts five professional teams and countless minor league affiliates. And flag football, a sport that has been described as the future of American football by the National Football League – the most lucrative pro sports league in the nation – seems a lock to be staged in the city that has two franchises.

Lacrosse was staged at the 1904 and 1908 Olympics, but it appears the indigenous North American sport that is popular among universities and colleges will not fare well against the other options.

Two team sports is already a lot – but three? The numbers could be challenging.

Last year the IOC confirmed that surfing, skateboarding and climbing – three popular Games tested sports – would be guaranteed spots in LA.

But now the IOC has its eyes on cricket, and the chance to bolster broadcast revenue potential that has been lagging since the advent of various streaming options. It’s also an opportunity to tap into the lucrative 1.4 billion population base of India. Cricket fans in the United States can be measured in the hundreds of thousands.

It’s clear where IOC President Thomas Bach stands, he said last week on Indian television “You know, I cannot hide that, I’m really a fan of cricket.”

“Now it’s in the hands of the Organizing Committee of LA to make a proposal.

“I think you can imagine from my answers what my answer to such a request would be.”

It’s difficult to imagine, however, that the LA 2028 organizing committee would want to sacrifice an opportunity to showcase America’s favorite sports and shoring up domestic revenue opportunities by accepting cricket instead. If not in LA, cricket would likely make it’s first Olympic appearance in 132 years at the Brisbane 2032 Games where the city’s historic Gabba cricket ground is getting a multi-billion dollar renovation.

That’s why negotiations are likely intense among the stakeholders and perhaps both sides have reached an impasse, forcing the delay announced Wednesday.

Indeed, unnamed sources reportedly told The Times that LA 2028 are willing to accommodate cricket in exchange for flag football’s inclusion – and the assumption is that baseball/softball would be added as well. All three team sports would create a spike in the number of athletes that would need to be accommodated – and increasing beyond 10,500 would require a change to the Olympic Charter.

Whatever is decided, the final ratification of the sports program will be made by IOC members next month in India which could lead to either a celebratory moment, or something very awkward. To keep on schedule the announcement will need to be made soon – the IOC Session needs a month lead time to consider the new sports before casting votes in Mumbai starting October 15.

India is among several nations vying to host the 2036 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Breaking, a dance sport that will debut at Paris 2024, can be staged with a minimal number of athletes on a small urban footprint.

Karate made its first appearance at Tokyo 2020 but will not be staged in Paris next year. Squash has made numerous attempts to be added to the Olympic program but has yet to achieve success.

A senior producer and award-winning journalist covering Olympic bid business as founder of as well as providing freelance support for print and Web publications around the world. Robert Livingstone is a member of the Olympic Journalists Association and the International Society of Olympic Historians.

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