Ontario: A little over two decades after the Sahara Cup created a furore in Canada, cricket is making a serious comeback in the Great White North.
The demand is on the rise to have a series of ODIs or even T20s in Canada, especially the province of Ontario with cities like Toronto (Canadaa¿s largest city, Ottawa (Canada’s capital), Mississauga, Brampton, Oakville, home to an estimated 1.7 million people of South Asian origin.
Indians make up for approximately 830,000. There are over 200,000 people of Pakistani origin and another 200,000 people of Sri Lankan origin. Many more from South Asia – probably motivated by restrictive immigration policies under the Trump administration and the difficulty of obtaining green cards in the United States – are seeking permanent residence in Canada.
With such a cultural mix, it is a great platform to push cricket, feel Canadian sports administrators.For the records, the Sahara Cup was being played in Toronto from 1996-98 for three years.
The tournament was played between India and Pakistan and was brought by IMG, ESPN and TWI with the boards of both India and Pakistan signing a five-year deal.
After three years, it stopped because of the 1999 Kargil War. Now, almost two decades later, the Canadian officials feel creating another tournament like that would be a great opportunity. Sources in the Ontario government say that along with an economic and trade delegation, a sports delegation from Canada will soon travel to India to discuss the modalities of hosting such a tournament every alternate year.
There are also thoughts to give a presentation to top officials of the International Cricket Council (ICC), the controlling body of the game. The Canadian government is very clear that it will not allow Canada to be home to masala matches. It wants to play by the rulebook and wants to get both ICC, BCCI and other cricketing boards involved.
It is immediately not clear that whether the Canadian government is seeking a rerun of India-Pakistan series, Ottawa is aware of increased tensions between the two South Asian neighbours. It wants some top-class cricket series involving India and some other country, to start with.
In short, the demand for high quality cricket matches is growing fast in Canada. In October 2019, a headline in The Toronto Star caught the eye. It read: Toronto needs cricket pitches, basketball courts, as demographics change and ice rinks go cold.The story cited a $2.2-billion master facilities plan for Toronto which revealed proposals for 30 new outdoor basketball courts over the next 20 years, 45 new soccer fields and 18 new indoor pools along with five cricket pitches (fields). But only one more indoor ice rink.
In the interview to The Toronto Star, Janie Romoff, general manager of Parks, Forestry and Recreation for the city of Toronto, said, “We haven’t seen a huge increase in demand for hockey. Soccer continues to be a huge growth sport. Cricket is a big need coming through loud and clear.”
“Newcomers to Canada are increasingly calling Toronto home and more than 50 percent of our population was born outside of the country. People wish to play the sports that they are most familiar with and our plan responds to the diverse cultural needs of our residents,” the city said in a statement.
Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture for the province of Ontario, Lisa Anne MacLeod, said, “We (Ontario) are the world in one province. When Toronto Raptors won (NBA title) it reflected that diversity. My Job is to ensure that sport is attainable for every Ontarian regardless of where they come from.”
Cricket was once the most popular sport in Canada until the early 20th Century before it was overtaken by hockey. Today, cricket is one of the fastest growing sports in Canada. There are more than 40,000 cricketers across the nation.
The GT20, Canada’s own T20 professional league with six teams will be ready for a third edition this summer hoping to beat the 50 million TV audience it garnered last year. Some of the international stars who played in the 2019 edition were Yuvraj Singh, Shahid Afridi and Chris Gayle.
Speaking on bringing in cricket to the city and to the GTA (Greater Toronto Area), the Minister for Sport said, “We are a large South Asian population and I would be very interested in hosting a major cricket match here as sports minister. We are very open in bringing cricket as it is very appealing to Ontarians.”
There is a lot of work being done in the provincial sports organisations through which a lot of young stars have come through. One of the examples cited by the Minister of Sport Lisa MacLeod is Bianca Andreescu, the US Open women’s singles champion and also the child of Romanian immigrants.
“Bianca is amazing and that is ample proof of the work happening at the provincial sports grass root level,” MacLeod said.
Deepak Anand, a Member of the Provincial Parliament (MPP) in Ontario who migrated to Canada from India (Chandigarh) in 2000, is excited about cricket finally developing roots in Canada. “Cricket is not only South Asian but also a Commonwealth Game. In fact, not many know that the first Canadian Prime Minister Sir John Macdonald was a huge cricket fan. Cricket is deeply rooted in Canadian history. There is a lot of appetite for cricket. 830,000 people of Indian descent live here in Ontario,” Anand said.
So, is Ontario open for a bigger cricket tournament knowing that if India comes down to play a bilateral series or a three-nation event, Indian fans from India and across the US will flood the streets of Toronto?
“Why not. We already have the T20 and Ontario is ready for investment into cricket. There is a delegation from Canada headed by the Minister of Economic, Trade and Job Creation which is going to India and we are looking for investment into sport, into cricket. Ontario is the best place to invest and grow cricket,” said an excited Anand.
Lisa MacLeod was in India during one of her overseas trips and loved it. “I fell in love with Mumbai and it was also fantastic to meet the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. India is a great place and a great partner with us in the Commonwealth. I encourage every Indian to come to Ontario,” MacLeod said.
May be, the roots that India has been trying to develop in the US for cricket to flourish may develop faster in Toronto. Canada could be the next big destination for cricket.
BY SHANTANU GUHA RAY