The IOC is weighing in on the incorporation of pandemic-driven virtual sports into the Olympics

The inaugural virtual sports series of the International Olympic Committee, which ended last week, marked the world’s first foray into the world of online gaming that grew during the COVID-19 pandemic, as it officially adds certain online sporting events in the Olympic program. in the future.

The virtual Olympic series, featuring baseball, cycling, rowing, sailing and motor sports competitions, opened on May 13 in what the IOC said was an initiative to reach a “new and younger” audience.

The IOC partnered with five international sports federations and game publishers for the event, which was incorporated into the preparations for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, which will finally begin next month after a one-year postponement. .

“I’m thrilled to become one of the inaugural champions of an Olympic event,” said Shoma Mori, 21, one of the winners in the baseball segment of the series, in which competitors played eBaseball Powerful Pro Baseball Konami 2020 on PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch Divisions.

“Because it was an IOC-licensed event, I felt that the level of registrants in the previous phase was high. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, I think sports play a more important role in promoting the excitement of baseball, both real and virtual, ”said Mori, who won the PlayStation division.

The event, organized in conjunction with the World Softball Baseball Confederation, saw players from Japan, South Korea and Taiwan participate, with 19 moving on to their respective finals.

The inclusion of virtual baseball in virtual Olympic series came after last December the WBSC decided to add sports as a new discipline to be played in international tournaments, including world championships and world cups.

“Sports is a growing reality and opportunity and is expected to be more relevant to the sports industry,” WBSC President Riccardo Fraccari said at a recent online press conference with Konami President Digital Entertainment, Hideki Hayakawa.

Fraccari expressed his hope that the sports tournament with Konami and similar initiatives in the future will have a relevant effect in increasing the appeal of physical baseball.

“I’m sure if we continue to grow the sporting experience, there will be more and more fans at our (physical) events,” he said.

The federation is also willing to cooperate with the IOC in promoting sports, as it awaits the return of baseball and softball to the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics after the sports were excluded from the 2024 Paris Games.

“I feel more and more that the barrier between real and virtual sports is getting small,” Hayakawa said. “Through this (IOC) initiative, I think more young people will become familiar with the joy of baseball.”

According to the IOC, the virtual gaming industry has experienced an increase in growth during the pandemic, with a 30% increase in gamers and a 75% increase in gaming use. The market was worth about $ 159 billion by 2020, he said.

With a number of existing sports tournaments, along with sponsorships, the field is also seeing the emergence of well-paid players. Some universities and colleges even set up their own sports curricula.

The IOC, which was forced to postpone the Tokyo Olympics last year due to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, has been willing to embrace a field in which it can expand its reach without the need for sports athletes to travel or host cities to build costly additional infrastructure.

In a new roadmap for reform strategy spanning five years after 2020, approved in March, the IOC said for the first time that it would “consider adding physical virtual sports to the Olympic program in cooperation with their respective international federations ”.

He said the body will also “encourage the development of virtual sports and participate more in video game communities.”

By “physical virtual sports,” the IOC refers to the types of games that use equipment and involve physical activities, such as a player riding a stationary bike or a rowing machine. For the virtual series, competitors in the cycling and rowing trials participated virtually by tracking their physical movements at home.

With this perspective, it not only excludes games without real sports performance, but also makes a clear distinction with competitive games that do not involve virtual versions of real sports.

In the midst of the pandemic, several international federations have organized virtual forms of their respective sports, such as an online version of the Tour de France cycling race and a virtual world rowing championship, with the participation of world-class athletes. .

Organizers say these virtual sports simulate the actual format and require similar physical endurance. They hope to encourage future participation, especially of young people, in real sports.

Two-time Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva, a member of the IOC Athletes Commission, warned the IOC about the dangers of not taking advantage of the growing popularity of virtual sports.

“In the future, it will be a huge challenge for the Olympic movement, for traditional sport, this computer sport, which is no less interesting than the Olympics,” he told an IOC session in March.

“Therefore, to be competitive against this, we have to offer them better conditions or, if possible, we can take them under our umbrella. … We definitely have to act as soon as possible, otherwise we will miss this opportunity, ”he said.

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