A short time ago, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach spoke about the potential inclusion of esports in the Olympics.
Speaking to the Associated Press at the Asian Games — where an esports demonstration was held last month — Bach stated,“We cannot have in the Olympic programme a game which is promoting violence or discrimination. So-called ‘killer games,’ from our point of view, are contradictory to the Olympic values and cannot, therefore, be accepted. . . .”
Poke a hole, any hole
Many commentators have already pointed out the glowing hypocrisy in these comments. The Olympics already lists many sports that can be construed as not only being violent but also extremely dangerous.
The likes of boxing, taekwondo, judo, and wrestling could all be viewed as violent in their essence.
One only needs to look at the tragic number of boxers who have lost their lives in the ring to realise that to omit esports from the Olympics because they are “too violent” is just plain contradictory.
Weapons all around
That doesn’t even take into account some other events that may not be as violent as the combat sports listed above but that certainly don’t have their roots in the wholesome values the IOC seems to want to protect and promulgate.
Archery and shooting, for example, are both good examples of sports where dangerous weapons are used, albeit to aim at inanimate targets. However, this equipment was not developed for sporting use. It was merely adapted from deadlier original intentions.
Fencing is also an Olympic sport, something that Bach will be familiar with. He was an Olympic fencer himself. In this sport, players may well be protected by equipment, but ostensibly, the aim is to use your chosen weapon to stab your opponent. It’s regulated violence that’s inspiration was clearly, well, stabbing.
Bach minces words
The IOC president had a counter argument loaded for this line of criticism.
“Of course, every combat sport has its origins in a real fight,” he told reporters. “But sport is the civilised expression about this.”
Yet if boxing, fencing, shooting and other Olympic combat sports are the civilised expression of a real battle, then why is esports any different?
After all, in esports, no player can injure another. Even with the best protection in the world, people who participate in combat sports can and do get seriously harmed.
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Realistic esports vs. fantasy esports
Even while pointing out the hypocrisy behind Bach’s words, I do have some sympathy with his view. I can understand why the IOC, especially in the light of recent high-profile shootings (including those affecting the esports community) are wary of admitting some esports to the Olympics, chiefly because of their realism.
Popular games such as Overwatch, Call of Duty, Counter Strike: Global Offensive, Player Unknown Battlegrounds, and Fortnite do portray human (or humanoid) characters using weapons to kill other characters. Clearly, digital murder doesn’t suit the Olympic image.
By his broad definition, Bach includes esports that do not include any form of killing, such as in the card game Hearthstone, or racing car games, or the hugely popular FIFA esports series. How can a game, one as hugely popular as say Rocket League, be accused of :promoting violence or discrimination”? Is the use of cars as players on the field discriminatory against footballers?
Unfortunately, the sweeping generalisation that underpins Bach’s statement makes it clear the president of the IOC has no interest in seeing esports in the Olympics. But is that not itself discriminatory?
The IOC and discriminatory behaviour
I find Bach’s comments about esports as “discriminatory” utterly perplexing. Certainly, at the top level of esports gaming, there are a greater number of male players than female, a fact which does need addressing, but when it comes to general gaming, research has shown that there are almost as many female players and fans as male.
Furthermore, esports teams are quick to act upon any player found guilty of discriminatory behaviour. Some players are even suspended and then released from teams due to poor behaviour.
Yet the IOC were happy to award the Winter Olympics in 2014 to Russia, a country where people in the LBGT community are routinely abused, bullied, stigmatised, and worse. Furthermore, after anti-LGBT protests in Sochi, the IOC were forced to state only venues offering acceptance of all races, cultures, sexual preferences would fit their ideals.
However, that still doesn’t explain why they awarded the games to a country with such a poor record in this seemingly crucial matter in the first place.
The IOCs’ track record with gender
And let’s not forget it was only in 1990 that Flor Isava Fonseca became the first woman ever to be elected onto the IOC Executive Board. It was only in 1991 the IOC decreed that any new sport seeking Olympic inclusion would have to include women’s events as standard. No woman has ever been elected as president of the IOC. By 2013, just over a quarter of the IOC Executive Board were female, which is hardly representative of both male and female interests in terms of the global population.
So for the IOC president to disqualify esports on the basis of discrimination is the pot calling the kettle black.
The good news for esports is that while Olympic inclusion, be that as a Summer or Winter event, would be welcomed by many, it is not necessary to fuel the continued growth of the industry. Esports will cope perfectly well without being branded as an Olympic sport.
Indeed, in time, it may well be the IOC that needs to adopt esports to appeal to the next generation of sporting stars, many of whom may well be famous because of their ability with their minds, fingers and thumbs, rather than a pair of boxing gloves, fencing sword or shotgun.
Editorial credit: Pavel L Photo and Video / Shutterstock.com