“I have asked our new E-Sports Commission to study the creation of an e-sports Olympic Games.” The announcement, made by Thomas Bach in his opening speech at the 141st IOC Session held in Mumbai, India, summarizes a revolutionary proposal and perhaps marks the starting point of an unprecedented stage in the Olympic universe.
Determined to defend the budding initiative, Bach argued that “virtual sports can encourage young people to get involved in sports and to lead an active and healthy life”. In addition, he relied on the numbers by arguing that “there are 3 billion people who use video games around the world”, of whom “more than 500 million are specifically interested in electronic sports, including virtual sports and sports simulations”.
The strong roots of this kind of sport in younger generations transcended as the central axis of Bach’s argument. The president of the IOC explained that “the majority” of those who practice and follow them “are under 34 years of age”, a fact that contributes to strengthening a sustained quest from the offices in Lausanne: embracing young audiences and seducing new audiences.
Among the 32 sports that make up the Paris 2024 program, none are electronic. None, in turn, were considered to join the Los Angeles 2028 list.
Despite the apparent disconnect, traditional Olympism and electronic sports do not follow completely separate paths.
In the last two editions of the Asian Games, for example, e-sports saw competition. First as exhibition tests and then, in Hangzhou 2023, medals were distributed to the seven disciplines: DOT A2, PUBG Mobile, Arena of Valor, League of Legends, Dream Three Kingdoms 2, Street Fighter V: Champion Edition and FIFA Online 4.
In order to find the only precedent of an exclusive e-sports match under the IOC wing, we must go back to the first edition of the Olympic E-Sports Week, held in Singapore in June of this year. It lasted four days and brought together more than 130 players from all over the world playing archery, baseball, chess, cycling, dancing, motorsport, sailing, shooting sports, taekwondo and tennis.
The World Health Organization (WHO) could position itself as one of the main opponents of the incipient IOC plan. Not only has it repeated the allegations about the physical impacts of this type of sport, but it also classified, in 2019, addiction to them as a growing mental disorder. It has not yet made a position public.
Another important announcement made during the session was the formalization of India’s candidacy, through its Prime Minister, Norendra Modi, to organize the 2036 Olympic Games.