International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach told India exactly what they wanted to hear last week during an interview with local news channel CNBC-TV18.
“Here our doors and hearts are wide open,” Bach said about a pitch planned by Indian sports minister Anurag Thakur next month to lay out his nation’s dream to stage the 2036 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
“India is flourishing and developing and how India now is embracing Olympic sports,” Bach added.
“India can play a much more important role in the Olympic Movement and for the Olympic Movement to have such a growth potential as with India.
“India is the most populous nation on this planet. India, with its flourishing sports movement is going beyond the more traditional sports and embracing more and more Olympic sports.”
The IOC will gather in Mumbai on October 15-17 to convene its 141st Session, an important all-members meeting that was awarded to India in 2022 and has been described by the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) as an important stepping stone towards staging the country’s first Olympic Games. India hosted its only other Session in New Delhi in 1983.
In 2018 the IOA mapped out an aggressive Olympic roadmap that included a bid to host the upcoming Session and campaigns to host the 2026 Youth Olympic Games and the 2030 Asian Games leading up to the 2032 Olympics. There have been detours on the roadmap with the Dakar, Senegal Youth Olympics being moved from 2022 to 2026 due to the COVID pandemic; the Asian Games being awarded to Doha in 2030 and Riyadh in 2034 – and the target 2032 Olympic Games instead given to Brisbane, Australia.
The next unallocated Olympics will occur in 2036 and several nations have already expressed interest including South Korea, Indonesia, Germany, Qatar, Hungary, Turkey, Mexico, Egypt, Poland and U.K.
But India has already begun to aggressively move forward with plans by hiring a well-known Olympics architecture and design firm with the intent to build an Olympic ready sports park surrounding the Narendra Modi cricket stadium along with a total of eight sports clusters.
The importance of the upcoming Session to showcase these plans to the Olympic powerbrokers has not been missed on the IOA and government officials. Bach has also recognized the opportunity to play up the Olympic Movement, using run-up media opportunities to gain favor with India’s 1.4 billion people and targeting a huge growth opportunity for the IOC.
Bach dangled the prospect of cricket being included in the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic Games, the most popular sports in the most populous nation, with the television friendly T20 format being proposed among eight other sports.
“It could make sense,” Bach told CNBC-TV18 during the same interview.
“You know, I cannot hide that, I’m really a fan of cricket, I was even playing once.
“Now it’s in the hands of the Organizing Committee of LA to make a proposal.”
The LA 2028 proposal is likely already in the hands of IOC officials responsible for the sports program, and the IOC Executive Board is expected to endorse a proposal on Friday (September 8). Bach may already know if cricket is among the final choices, still he sides with the Indian population and distances himself from the decision.
“I think you can imagine from my answers what my answer to such a request would be,” Bach hinted.
LA can propose any number of new sports for the program, but organizers are limited by a strict overall quota of 10,500 athletes – down from 11,420 who participated at the Tokyo 2020 Games. Team sports can put additional pressure on these numbers.
Skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing have already been named to the program and it seems unimaginable that baseball and softball would be excluded from the list in a city with the most iconic venues available. Flag football is also making a big push for inclusion and it may be difficult for Los Angeles, host of two National Football League (NFL) franchises, to deny the bid backed by America’s most lucrative professional sports league. Other sports such as breaking (to debut at Paris 2024) and karate (staged at Tokyo 2020) are also possible candidates. Lacrosse, kickboxing, squash and motorsport are also vying for spots.
Cricket would be a more global play for LA 2028 – and more to the benefit of the IOC. While one new team sport seems likely – three is almost impossible. With Brisbane hosting the Games in 2032 and the historic Gabba Cricket Ground getting a major renovation for the occasion, Australia may be more apt to debut India’s favorite sport.
The final list will need to be rubberstamped by the IOC membership in Mumbai next month. IOC Executives will need to choose between awkwardness and opportunity.