International Olympic Committee kiboshes idea of esports governing body

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International Olympic Committee

Will we ever see esports at the Olympic Games?

The jury’s out on that question. After the 8th Olympic Summit last December, the International Olympic Committee released a declaration that included its updated stance on esports.

It read, in part:

With regard to electronic games simulating sports, the Summit sees great potential for cooperation and incorporating them into the sports movement. Many sports simulations are becoming more and more physical thanks to Virtual and Augmented Reality which replicate the traditional sports.

In other words, the IOC sees potential in games that replicate real-world sports and actually get players moving. So, when VR FIFA becomes an actual thing and not just a product of someone’s vivid imagination, it could be a contender.

No governing body

One thing the esports world doesn’t have is, of course, an International Federation—at least one recognized by the IOC. Don’t expect that to change in the immediate future. Earlier this week, the IOC’s Esports and Gaming Liaison Group (ELG), chaired by International Cycling Union President David Lappartient, wrote to all to the summer and winter International Federations.

Lappartient informed them that the IOC does not plan to recognize any organization as the world governing body for esports.

“We have strong existing relations with the different stakeholders in the esports and gaming community, such as games publishers, platforms, athletes and players,” Lappartient wrote. “We will maintain these direct relationships rather than working through a third party.”

Several contenders

There are, of course, several would-be governing organizations in esports. For example, the Global Esports Federation and the International eSports Federation.

Lappartient seemed to be referencing these bodies specifically when he wrote: “Both of the organisations who reference themselves as esports federations have representatives on the ELG and we will continue to welcome the contribution of these individuals, however the IOC does not endorse or recognise any specific federation as a representative body in this area.”

The Singapore-based Global Esports Federation was launched last December with the backing of Chinese technology titan Tencent. The GEF has direct ties with the Olympics. Its president, Chris Chan, is the secretary of the Singapore National Olympic Council. Its chief operating officer, meanwhile, is Paul Foster, the IOC’s former head of protocol, events, and hospitality.

The International Federations of several Olympic sports have become members of the GEF, including those governing archery, canoeing, karate, modern pentathlon, surfing, taekwondo, and tennis.

An unusual development

That’s an unusual development. So unusual, in fact, that the IESF is apparently convinced that Lappartient’s letter was really intended as a rebuke of the GEF.

Vlad Marinescu, the president of the South Korea–based IESF, told the website insidethegames on Friday: “Anybody who understands sports structure understands that International Federations are not members of other International Federations.”

International Federations, Marinescu pointed out, are autonomous bodies within each sport. Some are members of the IOC and some are not. They are not, generally, members of one another.

“There is never a situation where an International Federation is a member of another International Federation—that was actually quite ridiculous,” Marinescu said. “And I have a feeling that that is the whole feeling behind this communication. It’s very clear in the last paragraph—it says that IFs should not join an esports federation. And this is something the IESF has never tried to do, because we respect the complete autonomy of the IFs.”

Will we ever see esports at the Olympic Games? Who knows. But shots have definitely been fired in the rivalry between the IESF and the GEF. That’s more exciting than any FIFA match will ever be, VR notwithstanding.

I have done a lot of different things over the course of my life and professional career. I have interviewed Oscar and Grammy winners and written cover stories for glossy newsstand magazines. I have played guitar in a rock band on national TV and run an independent music label for which I wrote all of the PR and marketing materials. In my spare time, I sweated out a novel about a world where raccoons are kings and dragons are real.

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