Could Cricket Become Popular In China?

China’s estimated
85,000 cricket fans play on football (soccer) pitches or basketball courts and use
plastic poles for stumps. The national side has made headlines around the globe
for its abysmal performances, including the women’s side being bowled out for a
humiliating 14 runs against the UAE last year.

There is
only one grass pitch serving the entire country, almost no domestic media
coverage and most young people in China are deterred from playing non-Olympic sports,
or are encouraged to focus primarily on their studies.

But despite
all the drawbacks, there is hope for cricket in China.

Growing the game
in the world’s second biggest economy has long been a priority for the ICC, and
it is perhaps surprising that cricket has struggled so much to take off in China
given its borders with the cricket-obsessed Subcontinent.

Many of
cricket’s headline sponsors around the globe, such as Oppo, Paytm, Alibaba and Vivo
are Chinese companies, showing China’s interest in the financial possibilities that
the world’s second most popular sport presents.

Cricket was
first played in China in 1858, with a group of British Navy officers taking on
a Shanghai side.  But whilst cricket flourished in nearby Hong Kong, China turned
its back on the colonial game.

For years
afterwards, cricket had very little presence in the world’s most populous country.  It wasn’t until the early 2000s when it was announced that cricket would be on the agenda
at the 2010 Asia Games, which China was set to host, that they began to
introduce the sport to universities in a bid to create a competitive team for the

The country’s first grass pitch was built in the host city,
Guangzhou, and whilst the men’s side struggled at the competition, the women’s
team defied all expectations, finishing fourth and providing hope for
cricket to bud in China.

Progress was
halted after cricket was taken off the agenda for the 2018 Asia games, but the
sport is set to return for the 2022 edition, which will take place in the
Chinese city of Hangzhou. 

Preparations are already underway – another grass pitch
is under construction and officials from the International Cricket Council
(ICC) are working with the Chinese government to get the game more
embedded in the country over the next two years leading up to the games.

The success
of cricket at the games largely depends on the amount of publicity it receives from
the Chinese media.  The other key factor is whether neighbours India choose to participate. A
cricket match between the two global superpowers of India and China could potentially be
massively profitable and the presence of a cricketing heavyweight such as India
at the tournament could be a big boost. 

Many attribute
cricket’s rapid growth in Afghanistan and Nepal to the passion
for the sport in nearby India, and there is hope that there could be a similar knock-on
effect in China if India were to take part.

Nepalese cricket fans cheer on their side. Cricket has rapidly grown to become the most popular sport in the country.

And whilst cricket’s
inclusion at the 2022 Asian Games will most certainly be beneficial for the
game in China, if cricket is to truly take off in the country then it is
imperative that cricket becomes an
Olympic sport.

Despite the vast
amount of money that the Chinese government splurges on sport, extremely little
is allocated to sports that aren’t present at the Olympics, such as cricket.  Chinese people are also heavily encouraged to only play sports that feature at the games – but t
he alluring prospect of Olympic glory in one of the world’s major sports might just persuade the Chinese government to start taking cricket seriously.

cricket at the Olympics could fast-track the game’s growth in what is a hugely
lucrative market.  Chinese sports officials have suggested
that cricket could receive funding of up to $USD20 million a year from the government
if it was to be included at the world’s biggest sporting event.  Currently, cricket
in China is almost totally reliant on funding from the ICC and the Asian Cricket

Another key
setback for Chinese cricket has been the lack of engagement in schools – but if
cricket was made an Olympic sport then it is highly likely there would be a
renewed push for it to be played at grassroots level from a young age.

Millions upon
millions in China watch the Olympics, making the games the perfect way for
cricket to gain significant and much-needed exposure.

In the past
cricket’s richest nations have heavily resisted proposals
for cricket’s inclusion at the Olympics, since it
could cause them to lose their financial grip on the game to the economic
superpowers of China and the USA.  Recent evidence, however, shows that every ICC
member barring India is fully in support of cricket’s Olympic dream.

The International Olympic Committee has also expressed interest in having cricket
at the competition as a way of boosting viewing figures in the Indian
subcontinent, a region that Olympic fever hasn’t quite managed to seize. Cricket
USA chairman, Ian Higgins, is also pushing hard for cricket’s inclusion at the
2028 Olympics.

There is
real optimism that cricket could be given the green light for LA 2028.  If
it was, then the possibilities for Chinese cricket, given the wealth and
population of the country, could be limitless.

Although growing
cricket to become a mainstream sport in China is a monumental task, steps are already being taken, such as including cricket in the Asia Games, introducing
more universities to the sport and setting up coaching and umpiring courses, show
there is genuine potential for growth.

emergence over the next thirty years on the cricketing stage will be a
fascinating one to watch, with potentially huge influence over cricket as we
know it.


Thanks for reading, stay tuned for more and please share with any fellow cricket lovers.

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