IOC plans inaugural Olympic Virtual Series as appetiser to Tokyo games
The International Olympic Committee has openly embraced esports for the first time in today unveiling the Olympic Virtual Series, which will comprise competitions in various recognised disciplines.
The IOC has partnered with five international sports federations and games publishers for an inaugural Olympic-licensed event for physical and non-physical virtual sports.
The OVS will run from 13 May to 23 June and include competitions based on baseball, cycling, rowing, sailing and motor sport, ahead of this year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo.
The IOC said the series aims to engage with virtual sport, esports and gaming fans worldwide to attract new Olympic audiences, and encourage participation, as part of Olympic Agenda 2020+5, the latest stage of the organisation’s reform programme.
The IOC’s federation and gaming partners will be: the World Baseball Softball Confederation and Konami’s eBaseball Power Pro Baseball 2020; cycling’s UCI and Zwift, the virtual training platform; World Rowing with an open format; World Sailing and Virtual Regatta; and motor sport’s FIA and Polyphony Digital’s Gran Turismo.
Of these, only motor sport is not an Olympic sport, although the FIA is a member of the Association of IOC Recognised International Sports Federations.
DreamHack Sports Games, an arm of the Modern Times Group-owned company that oversees esports leagues and tournaments, will be responsible for the marketing and production of the OVS.
The IOC stated the federations involved have committed to stage events in a format that maximises online mass participation so that viewers at home can compare their performances with top athletes and gamers.
The events will differ in form and concept, and operate via each sport’s respective publisher platform, with viewers able to follow the action on the Olympic Channel.
Until now, the IOC has been cautious in engaging with esports, and prioritised sports simulations as opposed to the ‘shoot ‘em up’ games that are among the most popular titles.
However, it is recognised in Agenda 2020+5 that the medium is a potentially appealing way of connecting with younger audiences, and raises the possibility of virtual events at the Olympic Games in the future.
The IOC named other federations wanting to stage events in future editions of the OVS as soccer’s Fifa, basketball’s Fiba, the International Tennis Federation and World Taekwondo.
IOC president Thomas Bach said on Thursday: “The Olympic Virtual Series is a new, unique Olympic digital experience that aims to grow direct engagement with new audiences in the field of virtual sports. Its conception is in line with Olympic Agenda 2020+5 and the IOC’s Digital Strategy.
"It encourages sports participation and promotes the Olympic values, with a special focus on youth.”
David Lappartient, the president of the UCI and chair of the IOC’s esports and gaming liaison group, added: “I am delighted to be involved in the launch of the first-ever Olympic Virtual Series. A number of IFs have well established virtual sports initiatives; and thanks to the cooperation between the IOC, the IFs and the publishers, the OVS is an exciting step forward for the virtual sports world and the Olympic Movement.”
The IOC will be hopeful the OVS will help to build excitement for this year’s Olympics, which were delayed from 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, a blight which continues to impact on the organisation.
Bach insists that Tokyo remains “the best prepared Olympic city in history” even though the Japanese capital is facing a new state of emergency to combat the spread of infection.
It was reported yesterday that Yuriko Koike is requesting the measure for the week of 29 April to 9 May, covering the Golden Week holiday period.
However, Bach insisted there would be no impact on the Olympics, which are scheduled for 23 July to 8 August.
Speaking at a media conference following an IOC executive board meeting on Wednesday, he said: “The measure would be in line with the very diligent approach we see taken by Japanese authorities.”
Bach added: “This (state of emergency) is absolutely in line with the overall policy of the government but it is not related to the Olympic Games.”
Japan has been less affected by Covid-19 than many prominent countries, with cases totalling 540,000 and under 10,000 deaths, but a rise in infections combined with a slow vaccination roll-out have prompted concerns ahead of the Olympics and subsequent Paralympics, scheduled for 24 August to 5 September.
The IOC, the International Paralympic Committee and the Tokyo 2020 organisers are continuing to monitor developments as part of preparations for the games.
It has already been confirmed that there will be no spectators from overseas, while Bach is hopeful that “a very big number” of the competing athletes will have been vaccinated, with national Olympic committees making commitments in this area.
Meanwhile, the IOC has announced that protests by athletes will remain banned at the Olympics after a survey showed most competitors were in favour of this measure.
There had been pressure on the organisation to relax Rule 50, which bans demonstrations at Olympic sites so athletes could express their support for causes such as Black Lives Matter at Tokyo 2020.
However, the poll of 3,500 athletes representing 185 NOCs and all 41 Olympic sports conducted over the last year showed that 70 per cent felt it was not appropriate to demonstrate or express views on the field of play or at opening or closing ceremonies, while 67 per cent disapproved of podium demonstrations.
The IOC has still to do clarify what punishments there will be for athletes who break the rule but these will be handled on a case-by-case basis.
In a statement, Kirsty Coventry, the chair of the IOC athletes commission, said: “The goal of this wide outreach was to engage with athletes and hear their thoughts on existing and new opportunities to express their views at the Olympic Games as well as outside Games time.
"We want to amplify the voices of athletes, and find more ways to support the values of the Olympic Games and what sport stands for. This consultation was a very important process for us and is part of the ongoing dialogue with the athlete community. We are delighted that the IOC [executive board] fully supported our proposals."