Philip Barker ©ITG

French nobleman Baron Pierre de Coubertin was such a driving force in the revival of the modern Olympics that it is tempting to consider how he would have reacted to the inclusion of the new sports for Los Angeles 2028.

"Cricket has practically no appeal for those who are not British and at least so far, it seems that you must be American to have a taste for baseball and lacrosse is almost exclusively a Canadian game," Coubertin wrote in 1909.

Yet, despite this gloomy assessment, Coubertin did witness all three in an Olympic context.

Of those returning for 2028, cricket was the sport with which Coubertin had the longest standing connection.

He had become aware of it as a boy, when he read Tom Brown's Schooldays by Thomas Hughes.

It is a story about a fictional pupil at Rugby School in the English midlands.

The book mentions cricket and includes a description of a match.

In the early years of the 20th century, Baron Pierre de Coubertin expressed doubts about the Olympic viability of cricket, lacrosse and baseball ©Getty Images
In the early years of the 20th century, Baron Pierre de Coubertin expressed doubts about the Olympic viability of cricket, lacrosse and baseball ©Getty Images

"Football and cricket, now one comes to think of it, are much better games than fives or hare and hounds, or any others where the object is to come in first or to win for oneself, and not that one's side may win," Tom Brown says in the book.

Coubertin was around 20 years of age when he first travelled to learn more about how sport was played in England.

At Rugby School, he is said to have meditated in the school chapel and expressed his admiration for Dr Thomas Arnold, headmaster of the school until his death in 1842.

"Thomas Arnold, the greatest educator of modern times, more than any other Englishman, is responsible for the current prosperity and progress of the nation," Coubertin wrote.

"I believe that from the moral and social point of view, no system stands higher than the English athletic sports system as understood and explained by Thomas Arnold of Rugby."

Coubertin also went to see Dr William Penny Brookes, who had established the Wenlock Olympian Games in the Shropshire town of Much Wenlock.

Cricket was included in the event established by Brookes.

In 1894, Coubertin organised a Congress at the Sorbonne in Paris, where it was agreed to revive the Olympics for the modern era. 

It was also agreed that Athens would host the Games in 1896. 

Respected French historian Jean Durry discovered a draft document which revealed the individuals, Coubertin hoped to recruit to help build the new Olympic movement.

They include Colonel George Robert Canning Harris, better known as Lord Harris, President of the influential Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) in 1895.

The MCC was responsible for the laws of cricket and at the time, effectively cricket's worldwide governing body.

A plaque erected at Rugby School recalls the visits of Baron Pierre de Coubertin in the late 19th Century ©ITG
A plaque erected at Rugby School recalls the visits of Baron Pierre de Coubertin in the late 19th Century ©ITG

Ultimately, Harris never did become an International Olympic Committee (IOC) member but Coubertin seems to have remained enthusiastic about cricket’s position in the Olympic firmament.

A prospectus for the 1896 Games included cricket "according to the regulations of MCC".

"Cricket would take place on the plain," Coubertin told the Athenian Parnassus Society in 1894.

In fact, cricket was not included in 1896, but in 1900, a cricket tournament was organised when the Games were staged in Coubertin’s home city of Paris.

The Netherlands and Belgium were initially included amongst the entries but withdrew leaving only two teams.

The British team was comprised of players from Blundell’s School in Devon and Castle Cary Cricket Club in Somerset,

It included Montagu Toller and Alfred Bowerman who had briefly played first class cricket for Somerset.

Their opponents were the Standard Athletic Club, the majority of whom were British expatriates, some of whom had originally worked on the construction of the Eiffel Tower.

The British team won the match, played at the Velodrome de Vincennes, by 158 runs.

Each side played with 12 players rather than the usual 11.

Whether or not Coubertin watched the match is not recorded, but four years later, in June 1904, he did visit Lord’s Cricket Ground in London, headquarters of the MCC.

The 1904 IOC Session was held in London and decided the host city for the 1908 Games.

Coubertin and his wife Marie stayed at the Hans Crescent Hotel in fashionable Knightsbridge,

A fellow guest was the Italian IOC member Count Eugenio Brunetta D’Usseaux.

The Italians were about to propose that Rome be selected as 1908 host city.

"The English representatives of the International Olympic Games Committee are at present entertaining a number of their foreign colleagues in London," the press reported.

At the time, the British Olympic Association (BOA) had not been formally established but arrangements for the Session were made by the IOC members in Britain.

Reverend Robert De Courcy Laffan, Sir Howard Vincent and Charles Herbert, secretary of the Amateur Athletic Association "did not neglect anything", Coubertin said.

Lord Kinnaird passed a message from the Olympic officials to an MCC Committee meeting at Lord's.

MCC minutes recorded that the club would be "glad to see a deputation of the St Louis exhibition of about 12 in number in the pavilion."

A poster for the last Olympic cricket match in 1900 ©Standard Athletic Club
A poster for the last Olympic cricket match in 1900 ©Standard Athletic Club

The IOC was not mentioned by name but St Louis was the venue of the Olympics in 1904.

So it was that the IOC members went to Lord's during the Middlesex match against the South African touring team.

Former England captain Lord Darnley who some years before had been presented with a small terracotta urn which in time became known as The Ashes and Charles Burgess Fry, a cricket and football international and world class athlete, made the arrangements for the visit.

The IOC party was to travel to the ground from the Mansion House, official residence of the Lord Mayor of London to arrive at 2:00 pm, after the lunch interval.

It is thought they went on the second day of three and probably saw some of South Africa's first innings and the beginning of the second innings by Middlesex.

They were received in the Long Room, an impressive chamber in the club pavilion with a high ceiling which looked out onto the playing area.

It is thought that William Gilbert Grace, known universally as "WG" and one of the most famous cricketers and personalities in England was there to greet them.

Later, the IOC members travelled to watch archery at the Royal Toxophilite Society in nearby Regent's Park.

Sadly they were not at the ground for the conclusion of the match, because it finished in a tie, distinct from a drawn match and very rare.

"Cricket we have tried many times in France but have always so far failed to find its attraction, I doubt if it will ever take hold of Frenchmen," Coubertin lamented, though if his compatriots had witnessed the exciting conclusion at Lord's, their opinion might have been different.

"I have seen time after time that teams which have gone to another country to engage in some match or contest have returned full of knowledge of the country or people."

The IOC had a very full programme which culminated in the formal election of the host city. Berlin had been persuaded to stand aside in favour of Rome.

"I wanted Rome because there alone, after its excursion to utilitarian America, would Olympism be able to don the sumptuous toga with which I had wanted to clothe it from the beginning," Coubertin declared.

When the decision was made, a telegram was sent informing the Italian King.

Later, Coubertin set out his financial projections for the Games.

"I thought I would assist the organisers of the celebration now eagerly anticipated by the entire world by drafting this memorandum to resolve the problem how can we arrange the 1908 Games to be celebrated under conditions which are both as advantageous as possible for the city and as satisfactory as possible for the Olympic institution," Coubertin explained.

Despite his concerns about cricket expressed in London, it was included on the draft programme alongside tennis, rugby and football.

"There is no reason to expect many teams to enter for the football or the cricket, four or five matches in all is the most that need to be expected," Coubertin said.

"I think it will be easy to find a venue at the Villa Borghese, otherwise they can take place along with the polo at the new hippodrome.

"I think 2,000 francs will be enough for football and cricket." In today's money the sum equates to approximately £3,100 ($3,800/ €3600).

"It is not necessary to draw up special rules for the Olympic Games, we recommend the Marylebone Cricket Club," Coubertin continued.

In fact the competition never took place because the Games were withdrawn from Rome in the wake of a natural disaster in 1906 when Vesuvius erupted.

When the Games were eventually organised in London, cricket was absent.

"The  main principle laid down for 1908 was that no competition should be sanctioned which was not practised by several different  nations," the official report stated.

"Baseball and cricket were rejected from the British Olympic programme, because the practice of these games was too restricted in character for the purposes of an international competition.

Lacrosse was included and in October 1908, Canada defeated Britain at the White City in London.

South Africa had originally been down to compete but they withdrew.

Although a number of dignitaries were listed in the newspaper report, Coubertin is not among them.

He had probably already returned home. He later sent a message to the farewell banquet.

Baron Pierre de Coubertin expected cricket to be staged at the Villa Borghese when Rome was awarded the 1908 Games ©La Vie Au Grand Air
Baron Pierre de Coubertin expected cricket to be staged at the Villa Borghese when Rome was awarded the 1908 Games ©La Vie Au Grand Air

Flag football is not thought to have been introduced until the 1940s, but its introduction to the Olympic programme has been heavily backed by the National Football League.

Coubertin himself saw gridiron football played at collegiate level during his trips to America.

On Thanksgiving Day 1893, he accompanied William Milligan Sloane to watch Princetown beat Yale.

"American football rules seemed to the English player devoid of common sense," he was to write later.

His trips to America also gave him the chance to see baseball, restored to the programme for 2028.

"Baseball is extremely simple in terms of its rules but it is quite difficult to play," was Coubertin’s assessment.

In the build up to the Paris 1900 Games, Coubertin wrote about its possible inclusion.

"If the American residents in France succeeded in forming a baseball team to play another team from America, this contest will receive the patronage and support of the Committee of the exposition which might give a prize," Coubertin suggested.

In fact, the guard corps of the United States Commission defeated a team of their countrymen in a special match.

Two exhibitions were also held at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm and included a match between a Swedish team and the Americans.

Although squash was not an Olympic sport, Coubertin certainly knew about other racket sports such as jeu de paume which were well established in Paris.

Such sports, not dissimilar to squash were clearly in his thoughts as he plotted the early Games.

In 1908, rackets and jeu de paume were included on the Olympic programme and held at Queen's Club in West London.

Current IOC President Thomas Bach played cricket with a tennis ball in Mumbai earlier this month ©Getty Images
Current IOC President Thomas Bach played cricket with a tennis ball in Mumbai earlier this month ©Getty Images

A hundred years ago, Coubertin was coming to the end of his time in charge of the IOC with the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris on the horizon.

Although he had relinquished the formal title of President during the first World War, he had remained closely involved with the Olympic movement for well over 30 years.

He had seen a bewildering array of sports come and go from the Olympic programme.

Sometimes these featured very few participants and could hardly be described as an authentic representation of the sport.

Hundred years later, the pattern seems set to continue as sports chosen in conjunction with each host city are included on the programme but as breaking discovered, there is no certainty they will be retained beyond one Games cycle.

The men's and women's cricket tournaments in 2028 are likely to feature only six teams each.

The time constraints of the Olympics render the classic two innings format of cricket, which Coubertin would have observed, impractical.

It means that T20, a shorter format which lacks many of the nuances and subtleties of the longer forms of the sport, will be used.

Olympic cricket will not therefore, take its place in the records of first class matches.