A Plan to Shake Up the Olympic Menu Includes Cricket


The Olympics are coming to Los Angeles in 2028, and most of the new sports the organizers want to add have a distinctly American flavor.

Baseball, softball, flag football and lacrosse, sports with roots and a high level of popularity in the United States, have been proposed for the 2028 Games, alongside two sports with more international appeal, squash and cricket. The International Olympic Committee will vote on the proposals by the Los Angeles organizing committee later this month.

Some of these sports would be in the Olympic spotlight for the first time, while others would be making a triumphant return, in some cases after a very long wait. And in several cases, organizers are opting for more streamlined versions of the Games, to smooth logistics and increase viewer interest.

Baseball for men was formally added to the Summer Games in 1992 and softball for women joined it four years later. But because the Games are held in the middle of the Major League Baseball season, the world’s best baseball players were always otherwise occupied.

The weakness of the field was eventually a key factor in dropping the sport after 2008, and softball, though its best players had been suiting up for the Games, was a casualty as well.

Since then, the inclusion of the sports has been a matter of local taste. Japan loves baseball, and along with softball the sport was added back in Tokyo in 2020. France does not, and the sports will not be included in Paris in 2024. But Los Angeles, again baseball and softball country, wants them to return. Don’t expect the major leaguers to be there, though.

As popular as it is in the United States, American-style football has never received serious consideration as an Olympic sport.

With a week usually needed to rest between games, a full tournament would not fit within the two-week Olympic window. Recent scrutiny of long-term brain injuries related to the sport would likely raise concerns beyond the timetable. And a team of the best American players would be likely to do serious damage to any representative team from most of the rest of the world. (At the most recent world championships, a U.S. team made up of players well below N.F.L. caliber beat France by 82-0 in the semifinal.)

Enter flag football, a five-player-a-side sport most Americans would associate more with gym class and summer camp than with high-level competition. Defenders grab a cloth hanging from an opponent’s belt rather than tackling their foe violently into the turf.

Women will play too, as the Olympics continue to prioritize equal participation. The only remaining single-gender sports are artistic (formerly synchronized) swimming and rhythmic gymnastics, both for women only.

One incentive for the organizing committee to choose flag football: The United States is the reigning world champion in both the men’s and women’s events.

Although a popular sport in some areas, and a phenomenally popular one in others, notably India, just one cricket match has been played in Olympic history.

In 1900 in Paris, men’s cricket was on the program, but two of the four teams scheduled to play did not turn up. That left a single match, between a British team and a French team made up mostly of British expatriates. Britain won and thus has been the reigning Olympic champion for 123 years and counting.

Part of the problem for cricket at the Olympics is that traditional matches take a long time, typically four to five days. The World Test Championship, the closest thing to an Olympics for that form of the game, takes two years to complete.

Luckily, over the past 25 years there has been a boom in popularity for Twenty20, the much shorter format of the game. Those matches are over in only three hours, which opens up the possibility of cricket’s return to the Games.

Lacrosse is another sport with a distant Olympic history, at least for men. In 1904 in St. Louis, a Canadian team from Winnepeg won the gold medal, ahead of an American and another Canadian team. The sport returned four years later in London, and Canada repeated, defeating an English team that was the only opponent to show up.

The I.O.C. has long pushed for fewer athletes at the Games, in order to cut costs, a goal that would suffer from the addition of 10-strong lacrosse teams, as you would see in a high school game. So the proposed sport for 2028 is a six-on-six version, with a smaller field and a shortened playing time.

It has long been a goal of the Olympics to include something for everyone. Sports less familiar to Americans may be hugely popular in other parts of the world.

Although mostly associated with upper-crusty prep schools in the U.S., squash is a sport that should provide Olympic gold medal opportunities to Egypt, a country that has won only two in any sport this century. Five of the top 10 men’s and four of the top 10 women’s players in the world are from Egypt.

The Los Angeles committee had to pass on some of its finalists. Kickboxing and motor sports (probably some form of go-karting) failed to make the cut. So did karate, which had been included as a local favorite in Tokyo in 2020, and break dancing, which is set to make its debut in Paris next summer, but will apparently not be sticking around after that.

Separately, the I.O.C. has, for now, dropped three longtime Games stalwarts. Those are boxing (because of a dysfunctional governing body) weight lifting (tainted by steroid accusations) and modern pentathlon (just not that popular, or even particularly “modern” anymore).

In their place are skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing, all of which debuted in 2021 in Tokyo and all of which are seen as more youth-friendly.


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