14 Oct 2023 – The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has announced that it is considering the establishment of Olympic Esports Games. The significant disclosure was made by Thomas Bach, the President of IOC, during the start of the 141st IOC Session in Mumbai, India. Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, was present for the occasion.
“Your attendance here, Mr Prime Minister, reflects the increasing significance of Olympic sports in your magnificent country. I’d like to extend a very hearty welcome to you – thank you for honoring us with your presence. Holding our IOC Session in India is inspiring – a land that blends a rich past and a lively present with a vivid hope for the future,” expressed the IOC President.
Thomas Bach also extended his gratitude to Nita Ambani, the IOC Member in India, for her warm hospitality, saying: “Even in our short time here, we have experienced the outstanding efforts you, Nita, are contributing to sports and athletes in India. Your achievements in both industry and sports are simply astounding. With your Reliance Foundation, you are conveying the Olympic values to millions of students, presenting them the chance to shape their lives via sports. You are spreading the Olympic spirit throughout this vast country and, in doing so, you are enhancing the world through sports.”
Comming to esports, Bach remarked that around three billion worldwide individuals play esports and gaming and it is estimated that over 500 million are specifically interested in esports, including virtual sports and sport simulations. He added: “What is even more significant to us: most of them are under 34.”
The IOC President announced: “I have requested our newly established IOC Esports Commission to look into the possibility of Olympic Esports Games.”
The IOC’s interaction with esports dates back to 2018 and has been comprehensive. “We opted for an approach that lets us be active in esports while staying faithful to our values that have guided us for over 100 years. In regards to esports, these values are the uncrossable boundary. Our unambiguous stance is becoming increasingly respected in the esports community. One leading publisher even adjusted their popular game to be completely aligned with our Olympic values – so players hit targets instead of people,” the IOC President emphasised.
The IOC’s first esports activity was the Esports Forum conducted in 2018 in Lausanne, marking the start of the IOC initiative toward esports. The IOC then launched the Olympic Virtual Series in 2021, marking its maiden journey into the esports arena.
President Bach explained: “Building on the learnings from this Olympic Virtual Series, we then introduced the Olympic Esports Week in Singapore earlier this year. We successfully united the Olympic and esports communities in Singapore.”
The final live rounds of the Olympic Esports Week, conducted in collaboration with International Sports Federations (IFs) and publishers, witnessed over 130 competitors from around the globe compete on the grand stage, in various mixed-gender category events. The events were viewed by an in-person audience in Singapore and streamed online, attracting over half a million unique participants and generating more than 6 million live views across all platforms, primarily from viewers aged 13 to 34.
“This was a promising beginning. However, it is just that: a beginning. Just like in any sport: even after a promising start, the real challenge still lies ahead,” concluded Thomas Bach.
He also touched on the topic of artificial intelligence (AI) in his speech: “Our continued survival is contingent on how we take up the swiftly progressing digital technology, particularly AI. This makes the ‘change or be changed’ mandate under our Olympic Agenda 2020 all the more urgent.”
He suggested a transformation in mindset in the Olympic Movement to seize this opportunity. “The younger generation has a novel way of thinking. They live digital lives presently. If we want a viable future, we cannot disregard their mindset. We must engage their young mindset to lead us.”
Bach said that the IOC needs to take the initiative: “We must undertake a comprehensive study of the opportunities and risks of AI – and then act swiftly. I am pleased to inform you that this work has already begun. If all goes well, you might see the preliminary effects of this during the Paris Olympics.” The IOC has put together an AI expert group to steer its efforts.
Remarking on another guiding principle of the Olympic Agenda 2020 reforms -that sports need to reach where people are- Bach said: “This holds true for both realms – the actual and the digital. In the present times, sports strive for the attention of young people. Hence, we need to connect with the youth in their digital domain. This is not just a technological imperative but also a demographic one.”
Focusing on the upcoming Olympic Games Paris 2024, designated the “Games of a New Era” and the first to be organized entirely under the tenets of the Olympic Agenda 2020 and Olympic Agenda 2020+5 from start to finish, Bach commented on the mounting anticipation in his opening speech.
Political leaders have also conveyed their backing to the Games. The most recent statement of support was delivered by the G20 Leaders in their declaration at their summit in India: “We look forward to the Paris Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2024 as a symbol of peace, dialogue among nations and inclusivity, with the participation of all.”
Concluding his opening speech, the IOC President addressed Prime Minister Modi once more, saying: “I extend my thanks for this commitment to the host and chair of this G20 summit, the Prime Minister of India, His Excellency Narendra Modi. We understand what a challenge it is to achieve consensus in these conflicting and confrontational times we live in. Congratulations and thank you, Prime Minister Modi, for your exceptional leadership and your substantial support for the Olympic Games.”
The whole speech delivered by IOC President Thomas Bach at the start of the 141st IOC Session is available here.