Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee (Photo by Fabrice Coffrini, via Getty Images)
On August 9, the co-president of the Paris Olympic bid committee announced that the 2024 Games would consider including esports as a medal event, saying: “There is some time to look at it, to interact, to engage. The IOC will have the last say, if they want esports on the program.” This week, International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach threw a bucket of cold water on this idea.
“We want to promote non-discrimination, non-violence, and peace among people,” Bach told the South China Morning Post. “This doesn’t match with video games, which are about violence, explosions and killing. And there we have to draw a clear line.”
Bach won a gold medal for fencing in the 1976 Olympic Games, so he must not have a problem with certain forms of simulated combat. The Olympic Games have also featured boxing, judo, karate, taekwondo and wrestling — but none of these events simulate death, as some video games do.
Bach did clarify that “if ever somebody is competing at playing football virtually or playing other sports virtually, this is of high interest,” so FIFA or Madden games could be on the table, as well as Rocket League, or the whole genre of racing games.
What about fighting games with fantasy combat and no bloodshed or death, like Street Fighter? Seems like those sorts of games could fit within Bach’s parameters. Unfortunately, some of the longest-running and most popular esports (StarCraft and Counter-Strike) feature deaths and would therefore not pass muster with Bach. Games like League of Legends, which depicts death as a temporary knockdown that then transports characters back to home base, could raise some philosophical questions for the IOC.
Bach also pointed out that the esports industry remains an under-regulated space compared to traditional sports: “You have to have somebody who is guaranteeing you that these athletes doing video sports games are not doped, that they are following technical rules, that they are respecting each other.”
The Esports Integrity Coalition, a nonprofit founded in 2016, has made strides on working with esports organisations to decide sanctions for pro players found cheating, doping, or participating in match-fixing schemes. It’s still early days for ESIC, and not every esports organisation has partnered with them, but it’s something.
Based on the types of sports that manage to clear the IOC’s hurdles, though, esports could still be doomed, even if an organisation like ESIC signs on to regulate a pro Madden bid. The process of Olympic inclusion is a byzantine one, and several widely popular sports are still not on the program, not to mention less physically demanding sports.
For example, chess has been vying for a spot in the Olympic Games for decades, but the IOC does not recognise chess as a sport. Presumably because chess simulates violence.