Two and a half billion fans can’t be wrong

Cricket NL is trying to get young Canadians into the second most popular sport in the world, but it’s a struggle.

Cricket enthusiasts gather at Powerplex inside NL Sports Centre in St. John’s for a winter indoor league match organized by Cricket NL. The league hopes to promote cricket to younger Canadians and increase its popularity among the local community. Sakib Ibn Rashid/Kicker

Sakib Ibn Rashid Rhivu

In the middle of winter, while snow covers the ground outside, a group of enthusiastic cricket players gather at the NL Sports Centre in St. John’s every Saturday to compete in the Indoor Cricket League organized by Cricket NL. The sound of the bat hitting the ball echoed through the facility, but one thing was strikingly clear: all of the players were immigrants.

In a country where ice hockey and basketball dominate the sports scene, cricket has failed to gain traction among the local people despite having a rich history that dates back to the late 18th century.

According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, Canada’s cricket history originated in 1785, when a match was held at Île Sainte-Hélène in Montreal. St. John’s Cricket Club, established in Newfoundland in 1828, was the second recognized cricket club in the country, following the Toronto Cricket Club. Notably, in 1867, Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald declared cricket as Canada’s first national sport.

Nonetheless, cricket remains a niche sport primarily played by immigrants, struggling to establish a significant presence in Canadian culture over time.

Akashdeep Singh, who is from India, is now the vice president of Cricket NL and the captain of the Newfoundland provincial team.

Besides weather issues, he says, the lack of popularity is largely due to a lack of exposure.

“Most immigrants who play cricket have been playing since they were kids in their home countries,” Singh said. “But for Canadians, cricket is not a sport that is played in schools or widely promoted in the media.”

A man swings a cricket bat in a gymnasium with a basketball net in the background.
Akashdeep Singh, the vice-president of Cricket NL, plays a stunning pull shot during a winter indoor league match. Singh hopes to inspire more local Canadians to take an interest in the sport and participate in the league. Sakib Ibn Rashid Rhivu/Kicker

Tesloach Lam, a senior staff member at the NL Sports Centre, is originally from Sudan. But he moved to Newfoundland with his family at the age of four.

He once wanted to play cricket after watching it on the news, says Lam, but he could not find a way to try this sport. Now, the game seems “too scary and complicated” to him.

“Though basketball is my main sport, I still like watching cricket,” said Lam, while watching the game from the sidelines. “It’s just hard to play if you didn’t grow up with it.”

Singh says promoting the sport to younger Canadians will be a key factor in making it popular.

“We want to make cricket accessible to everyone in Newfoundland and Labrador,” Singh said. “We are planning to promote the sport in high schools so that kids might have this option to play cricket besides other popular sports.”

“Sports have a way of bringing people together, no matter where they come from or what language they speak. Cricket is no exception.”

– Tesloach Lam, a senior staff member at the NL Sports Centre

Imrul Hasan Sufel, a Bangladeshi player who participated in the indoor league, says promoting cricket among younger Canadians could be a way to bridge the cultural gap between immigrants and locals.

“Cricket is an integral part of my childhood, and playing cricket here with other immigrants makes me feel like I’m back home,” said Sufel. “If more local Canadians join us, it will be a great way to learn about each other’s cultures.”

Cricket NL is facing some challenges in promoting the sport, Singh says, one of which is a budget shortage. The organization relies on donations and sponsorships to fund their activities.

“We have a dedicated group of volunteers who are passionate about cricket and want to see it grow in this province,” Singh said, as he was strapping on the pads for his next game. “We believe that by promoting the sport to younger Canadians, we can increase its popularity and make it a part of the sporting culture here.”

From his years of observation, Lam says cricket is a sport that requires skill, strategy, and teamwork, making it a valuable addition to any sports program.

“Sports have a way of bringing people together, no matter where they come from or what language they speak,” said Lam. “Cricket is no exception.”

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