A cricket tournament that drew more viewers from around the world in 2019 than any other North American sporting event aside from the Super Bowl returns to Brampton after a three-year hiatus, and organizers say this edition year will be the largest yet.
The GT20 Canada cricket tournament kicks off on Thursday at the CAA Center in Brampton, with six teams from across the country playing a total of 25 matches over 18 days.
The Brampton Wolves, the Montreal Tigers, the Mississauga Panthers, the Surrey Jaguars, the Toronto Nationals and the Vancouver Knights will compete to be crowned the best cricket club in the country.
Despite not having a widespread foothold in North America, cricket is the second most watched sport in the world, after soccer, and a massive audience tuned in to watch the latest edition of GT20 Canada in 2019.
“In 2019, we had a TV audience of 133 million people worldwide and we broadcast live in 84 countries,” said Karan Singh, event director.
Organizers say that number is up from 55 million during the tournament’s inaugural year in 2018, and they expect a television audience of more than 200 million this year.
The tournament’s global appeal stems in part from the fact that it has attracted some of the world’s biggest cricket stars to participate.
The first two tournaments included legends like Chris Gayle, Yuvraj Singh and Lasith Malinga.
Gayle, a Jamaican cricketer considered one of the best batsmen to ever play T20, returns to the tournament this year as a member of the Panthers.
T20 Cricket’s GOATs changed to black and purple for GT20 Canada Season 3, representing the Mississauga Panthers ��@henrygayle and @realshoaibmalik are ready to take the field for the opening game on July 20 ��#GT20Canada #GT20Season3 #GameIn pic.twitter.com/LkesrX0Cja
— GT20 Canada (@GT20Canada)
June 28, 2023
Each participating club was allowed to recruit two “marquee stars”, a total of eight other international and six Canadian players to their respective rosters.
Some other notable stars participating in this year’s tournament include Harbhajan Singh, Shakib Al Hasan, Shahid Afridi and Rassie van der Dussen.
Singh says that when the organizers were putting together the first edition of the event in 2018, world-renowned players needed to be convinced to enter a Canadian tournament.
“When this tournament was still a concept and not a reality, our team, and our team is made up of people who have worked in this sport for decades, it took a lot of maneuvering, a lot of convincing and leveraged relationships to get here. Singh said.
“But once that happened and they saw that cricket is possible; the facility that we built, the infrastructure that we built, even though it was temporary, was still fit for international cricket. It made it so much easier to get them to come back for this three week stint every year.”
— GT20 Canada (@GT20Canada)
July 18, 2023
In addition to cricket’s huge international audience, the sport is also growing in popularity in Canada and is particularly appreciated in many South Asian and Caribbean communities in GTA.
Singh says having some of the sport’s best-known players competing on Canadian soil will help further increase the game’s popularity and inspire the next generation of Canadian cricketers.
“We have so many South Asian members of the Canadian community, so many members of the Caribbean community, so many members of the Commonwealth community, all living here, and they have all grown up loving the sport,” Singh said.
“For them, the ability to really see [cricket stars] live and in person is a pipe dream, but thanks to this tournament, that pipe dream becomes a reality. It also allows them to connect more deeply with the Canadian community because it helps ease the transition of becoming a Canadian and becoming familiar with the things they grew up with back home.”
The recent rise in popularity of cricket in GTA has also prompted calls to improve the sport’s infrastructure in the region, as the demand for cricketing space now far exceeds the supply.
Earlier this year, the City of Brampton launched an Expression of Interest process for a 112-acre city-owned parcel near the 401 and 407 freeways, with the goal of creating a “new urban core” that would be anchored by a “state of the art multi-purpose cricket facility”, but the project is likely still years away.
“Infrastructure only develops when it has a purpose. This tournament serves as a catalyst for that purpose,” Singh said.
“We’ve been working with the City of Brampton and Mayor Patrick Brown, who has been a big supporter of moving the sport forward, and now the Province of Ontario has backed us as well, we’re seeing GTA come alive with the sport. But it’s not just limited to the GTA, on the other coast, in BC, this sport is growing in popularity; in Calgary, in Montreal, wherever we go.”
Cricket is one of the fastest growing sports in Canada and the city of Brampton is known as the ‘Cricket Capital of Canada’! ����
— City of Brampton (@CityBrampton)
July 18, 2023
Singh says the GT20 Canada tournament is also an opportunity to introduce cricket to a whole new group of sports fans who may not yet be familiar with it, a process he says is already underway.
“We are seeing the effects of cricket spilling over into mainstream traditional sports and we are starting to see acceptance of the sport by non-traditional fans. It’s something really encouraging,” he added.
Singh says he hopes sports fans of all persuasions will tune in to this year’s tournament, which kicks off with a clash in the Peel region between Wolves and Panthers on Thursday at 3:30pm.
“What the fans can expect if they tune in or come to the venue – and I would love for them to come to the venue – I think the in-person experience is the best experience in the sport – is that they will get world-class cricket action,” Singh said.
“They’re going to see their superstars that they grew up loving play in their backyard, and it’s going to be an amazing atmosphere. It’s going to be loud, it’s going to be fun and everyone is going to enjoy the sport.”
With files from Chris Fox of CP24