DUBAI: Cricket’s only appearance as part of an Olympic Games will be recalled later this month when teams from France and Britain meet to reprise a match that took place in Paris 112 years ago.
France Cricket (FC), the national governing body for the sport, will field a side against the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) in Twenty20 and 50-over-a-side matches at Chateaux du Thoiry on June 16 to help raise awareness of the sport within the country.
In an Olympic year, the matches will also be a reminder of one of the more unusual episodes in the history of the Games.
The 1900 contest, which took place at the Velodrome de Vincennes, featured a British side from the south west of England – the Devon Country Wanderers – and a French line-up made up of players from the Standard Athletic Club and the Albion Cricket Club in Paris.
The match was 12-a-side and the majority of France’s team were expatriate players, many of them born in England.
Britain won the game by 158 runs, with totals of 117 and 145-5 declared, easily outstripping France’s scores of 78 and 26, but the match was only formally recognised as an Olympic event by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1912.
Silver medallists “It is a bit of a quirk that we are the silver medallists,” Mark Moodley, the general manager of FC, told Reuters.
“When we talk to people about the sport it has become a bit of an ice-breaker before we have a more detailed in-depth discussion... (but) it is not something we boast about as it happened so long ago.”
FC hopes the 2012 re-run will help to kick-start their plans to increase participation and improve standards. France has just over 4,000 active players and more than 200 qualified coaches.
They have already achieved one notable success by getting permission from the French primary school sports association to deliver cricket training to teachers. The aim by 2015 is to reach 200 primary schools and introduce up to 20,000 French youngsters to the game.
One issue the country has is a shortage of cricket grounds – it has only 35 – and Moodley said it meant they had to be creative in how they develop the sport.
“We may not have traditional cricket grounds but we do have gymnasiums so our idea is to develop indoor cricket throughout the year and then move outside where and when we can in the season.
“If this means playing three-a-side cricket in indoor tennis courts and then creaming the best players and making them into cricketers, then so be it.”
Four-nation tournament The matches on June 16 will also serve as a prelude to a four-nation tournament from June 20-23 when France face Austria, Belgium and Gibraltar.
The winner of that event will go to Samoa in September to join the hosts, Bhutan, Ghana, Japan, Norway, Suriname and Vanuatu in ICC World Cricket League Division 8, the first step on a path already trodden by Afghanistan that could ultimately lead to participation in an ICC Cricket World Cup.
“We are trying to get the French team as high as we can in the World Cricket League,” said Moodley.
“It is really important for us to get into World Cricket League Division 8.”
The MCC squad features four players with first-class experience including Chris Hollins, a former Oxford University student and now a BBC presenter.
The club has its own connection to the Olympics as its home, Lord’s Cricket Ground in London, will host the archery competitions this summer.
“MCC backed the London Olympic bid from the outset and hosting Olympic archery will undoubtedly showcase Lord’s, MCC and the game of cricket to a worldwide audience and in many countries perhaps more unfamiliar with our sport,” MCC spokesman Neil Priscott told Reuters.
Playing against France in the re-run of the 1900 match would also help the club to maximise the effectiveness of increasing cricket’s international appeal, he added.
Cricket was granted full recognition by the IOC in 2010 and the ICC is currently examining whether or not to apply to participate in future Games.
“Olympic participation is vital,” said Moodley. “It is a must for us in terms of media coverage and the visibility you get from being an Olympic sport.
“As soon as cricket becomes an Olympic sport, it also means that our government financing will increase dramatically. Olympic funding begins seven years before the competition so that teams can invest and prepare.”