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IOC to Examine eSports as a Medal Event in 2024

23 Aug, 2017

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

With the 2024 Olympic rings almost certainly appearing in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, France is looking at what it can do to make these some of the most innovative Games the world has ever seen. And even bigger than open-water swimming in the Seine River (previously viewed as groundbreaking since, unlike Rio, Paris actually did clean up its water) is the prospect of eSports being featured.

Incroyable? Non. At least not according to an article in The Washington Post:

The co-president of the Paris Olympic bid committee, Tony Estanguet, told the Associated Press he is mulling the addition of eSports to the agenda. And with an audience of eSports fans expected to reach 145 million people this year, per data gathered by Fortune, it’s no wonder Olympic officials might seize a share of these viewers, as well.

“We have to look at [eSports] because we can’t say, ‘It’s not us. It’s not about Olympics,’ ” Estanguet told the AP. “The youth, yes they are interested in eSport and this kind of thing. Let’s look at it. Let’s meet them. Let’s try if we can find some bridges.”

Since the IOC has been on a campaign to recruit younger viewers, and has, as a result, become interested in sports with those demographics, this may be an interesting hook. And to be fair, there is a precedent already; eSports will be included in the 2022 Asian Games, as reported in SDM back in May. (And to whet spectators’ appetites, eSports will be presented as a demonstration sport at next year's Asian Games in Indonesian cities Jakarta and Palembang.)

But overshadowing even the prospect of younger viewers are two problems. One is the fact that eSports is not a terribly telegenic event (which would result in it getting less camera time and therefore not bringing in that desired demographic) – and the other, bigger threat is the (not exactly new) concept of whether or not it is actually a sport. The Washington Post article notes:

In April, IOC President Thomas Bach did not sound convinced that eSports would fit in at the Olympics.

“We are not yet 100 percent clear whether eSports is really sport, with regard to physical activity and what it needs to be considered sport,” Bach said (via Inside the Games). “We do not see an organization or a structure that will give us confidence, or guarantee, that in this area the Olympic rules and values of sport are respected and in place, and that the implementation of these rules are monitored and secured.”

To become an Olympic event, sports must demonstrate a certain level of international organization, including having a world governing body. (For example, swimming and diving events are overseen by the FINA, international basketball by FIBA, soccer by FIFA, etc.)

eSports made significant headway toward creating a world governing body last year when several pro teams combined with eSports’ largest league, the Electronic Sports League, to form the World eSports Association. The association has not proven a smooth operation, however. Just a day after the association was announced, Kotaku reported, one of the pro teams withdrew from the association citing concern over conflicting commercial interests stemming from ESL’s involvement.

While it’s interesting news, it’s not a pressing issue. Paris has at least until the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, to make any final decisions and work with the IOC.

In the meantime, that means #LA2028 has to really think hard about what it can do to raise eyebrows about its Games.

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