Controversial discussions behind esports as Olympic medal event

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By Luca Arfini
The inclusion of esports as a medal sport in the 2022 Asian Games has been put on hold after a recent OCA statement. A debate about esports’ possible admittance at the 2024 Paris Olympics is currently going on.

Last week, an Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) official questioned esports’ inclusion as an official medal sport at the 2022 Asian Games, claiming that the discipline requires one inclusive governing body before it can be recognized as a medal event.

The statement was made by the OCA director general, Husain Al-Musallam, during this month’s OCA executive board meeting where a program of around 40 sports was approved for the 2022 Asian Games to be held in Hangzhou, China.

"E-sports is not finally decided to be officially in the programme," he said on the sidelines of meeting.

"There needs to be one international federation. Now there are so many international federations for e-sports. They have to get together to decide one governing body. To be 'official' in the programme and not 'demonstration' it has to be one international sport," Musallam told Agence France-Presse.

Experimenting at this year’s Asian Games

Esports competitions are being tested at this year’s Asian Games, which count more than 10,000 athletes from the whole continent and take place in Indonesia, from August 18 to September 2. Esports will feature as a demonstration sport and there will be no medals for the discipline. It is, however, regarded as a chance to test if esports can be included into larger scale traditional sporting events.

At this year’s Asian Games, six esports titles were chosen for the competitions: League of Legends, Pro Evolution Soccer 2018, and Arena of Valor as team games, while Starcraft II, Clash Royale, and Hearthstone have been chosen as the individual games.

According to an official statement made in May by Kenneth Fok, the Asian Esports Federation (AESF) president, the selection was made following rigorous criteria. “In the selection of Asian Games esports, we exercised stringent criteria, i.e. the game must adhere to our vision of promoting integrity, ethics, and fair play,” he said.

Esports as an Olympic discipline ?

The discussion regarding the possibility of making esports part of the Olympic competitions is quite controversial.

Esports could help turn around the declining number of followers of the Olympic Games, making them more appealing to teenagers and millennials. 

 “If the Olympics want to continue making the sort of money they’ve been making, they need to supplement the content. From a content play, esports is a definitive opportunity," said Mathew Jessep, a sports and esports lawyer according to Bloomberg.

During last year’s 6th Olympic Summit in Lausanne, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) officially recognised esports as a sport, opening the debate on its possible admittance at the 2024 Paris Olympics.

“’eSports’ are showing strong growth, especially within the youth demographic across different countries, and can provide a platform for engagement with the Olympic Movement. Competitive ‘esports could be considered as a sporting activity, and the players involved prepare and train with an intensity which may be comparable to athletes in traditional sports´,” the IOC stated during the Summit.

However, they also added that to be fully recognised, esports must follow the Olympic values and that an organisation guaranteeing compliance with the rules of the Olympic Movement should be established.

This includes, as IOC chief Thomas Bach declared this April to AFP, that games promoting violence or any kind of discrimination will not be allowed at the Olympics because that would be against IOC’s values and principles.

On the other hand, not everybody in the esports environment are keen to have the discipline included in the Games.

"Personally, I think the Olympics will put too many restrictions on us," said "TobiWan" Dawson, an Australian esports broadcaster at a Shainghai tournament to AFP, citing the national team aspect of the Games as one critical issue for esports in the Olympics.

"There are country-based esports teams, but that's not what makes esports strong. What makes esports really strong is the fact that you take a blend of multiple regions and you put them into one team."

According to AliSports, the sports arm of Chinese Alibaba, esports and the Olympics could be a win-win.

"The Olympics needs to attract young audiences through such a project to inject energy into it, while esport needs such a platform to further regulate the industry so it can draw broader public attention," Alisports’ General Manager for esports to AFP in December last year.

Anyway, being recognized as an Olympic sport is only the first step and does not guarantee the participation in the Olympic Games; this is for instance the case for chess, bowling and powerboating.

More information

Find the 6th Olympic Summit's summary here.
Find more information on the debate here.
Find more information on the 2018 Asian Games here.
Find more information on the Asian Games Esports here.

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