Golf's Rio exodus may hit sport's Olympic prospects; ICC

LONDON: High-profile withdrawals of male golfers from next month's Rio Games might damage cricket's chances of becoming an Olympic sport, fears the International Cricket Council (ICC).

Golf's return to Olympics for the first time since 1904 has been hit by big-name male withdrawals over health concerns triggered by the outbreak of the Zika virus in Brazil.

The top four male golfers in the world -- Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy -- have pulled out and ICC Chief Executive Dave Richardson fears a ripple effect.

"The IOC made it clear from the start that if we want to persuade them, they want the top teams and the top athletes," Richardson told British media.

"I think this experience with golf might have made it even harder for us to get in, because we will have to convince them our top teams and players will be there.

"Will cricketers regard it as the pinnacle, or would they prefer a World Twenty20, a World Cup, an Ashes series? And if it's not the pinnacle, should we be in the Olympics in the first place?"

Cricket has struggled to venture into new markets away from its traditional strongholds and the world governing body ICC has decided to apply for the inclusion of women's cricket at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Durban.

The ICC has also been exploring the possibility of getting the sport added to the Olympic programme and president of the Italian cricket board, Simone Gambino, has said it would be included in the 2024 Olympics should Rome win the bid to host the Games.

Richardson confirmed cricket's shortest Twenty20 format was being considered for the Olympics.

"The majority of ICC members believe that if cricket was at the Olympics it could do wonders for globalising the game," said the former South Africa test cricketer.

"Sure, the World Twenty20 gets a lot of viewers around the world but it attracts current cricket fans.

"If you want to really globalise the game - USA, China, Europe - then we have to be at the Olympics."