Earlier last week, it was reported that International Olympic Committee (IOC) had warned its members not to join the Global eSports Federation (GEF).
GEF formed last year was set up as a rival to the South Korean-based International eSports Federation (IeSF), established in 2008.
On the surface it may look like the IOC does not want to be embroiled in a fight between two rival bodies for supremacy as the governing body for the sport.
But what should surely send some alarm bells ringing is the statement made by the IOC’s eSports and Gaming Liaison Group (ELG). Insidethegames in their exclusive report had confirmed that the ELG had written to all summer and winter International Federations (IF) that they do not plan to recognize any organisation as the world governing body for eSports.
The Olympic movement is a grouping of various IFs whereby the IOC hosts multi-sports events. It has never been IOC’s role to recognise any IFs as the world governing body for any sports. It has never been their role although only sports who are members of the IOC can participate at the Olympics.
But nothing can stop any sports with no intentions of joining the movement from maintaining their sovereignty over their own sports.
This is exactly what the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) decided earlier this year in resolving the dispute between the International Surfing Association (ISA) and the International Canoe Federation (ICF) in regards to the governance of the sport of Stand-up Paddleboard (SUP.
The ISU’s petition for the CAS to declare itself as the sole governing body for the sports was denied. The CAS, instead, has declared that while the ISA has the right to govern and administer the sports at the Olympics, the ICF remains entitled to conduct all types of SUP activities outside of the Olympic movement.
The CAS also pointed out that any recognition of the Olympic level belongs exclusively to the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
The IOC it seems have claimed that they have strong existing relations with the different stakeholders in the eSports and gaming community, such as games publishers, platforms, athletes and players and would prefer to maintain these direct relationships rather than working through a third party.
This is perhaps the first time that the IOC had taken the step in regards to any sports in existence.
eSports is the fastest growing sports among the younger generation and is seen as a burgeoning cash cow. That for all intent seems to be the reason as to why the IOC is taking such a close interest in it.
Since its launch, several Olympic sports have become members of the GEF, including archery, canoeing, karate, modern pentathlon, surfing, taekwondo and tennis. As for the IeSF, they have been content in promoting their own activities including the Esports World Championships later this year.
Any inclusion of esports in the Olympics in the future will bring huge amounts of cash injection of sponsors and it looks like the IOC wants the first and only bite of the cake.
The IOC together with the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF) announced the formation of the ELG in 2018. It was formed to look into the commonality and potential collaboration, including the question of whether eSports could be recognised as a sport and therefore represented within the Olympic Movement.
To be clear, both the IOC nor the GAISF had never formed any such groups like the ELG for any other sports in their entire history. The Olympic charter nor the GAISF statutes has any provisions to give them the authority to take over the governance of any sports, what more when there is already an existing IF for the sport.
They can deny membership to the concerned IFs but it is certainly not for them to usurp the role of the IF for their own benefit.
Does it really matter whether any sport is recognised by the IOC or the GAISF? Yes it is, but only if the particular sport is interested in becoming an Olympic sport.
There are dozens of sports that are not members of the IOC and have their own legally established international federations including for Sepak Takraw, Kurash, Kabaddi, Teqball and Woodball.
None of this sports has the same financial generating power as eSports, although kabaddi is only second to cricket in attracting sponsors in India.
It is quite clear that the special status given by the IOC to eSports is indeed because it has the power to bring in immense financial benefits to the IOC.
I believe esports will rival the biggest traditional sports leagues in terms of future opportunities, and between advertising, ticket sales, licensing, sponsorships and merchandising, there are tremendous growth areas for this nascent industry–Steve Borenstein, Chairman of Activision Blizzard’s Esports Division and Former CEO of ESPN and NFL Network
According to Goldman Sachs, eSports will exceed $1 billion in revenue in 2019, and reach USD 3 billion by 2022. eSports creates the foundation for an entire ecosystem of opportunities, which include live-streaming, game development, player fanbases, and brand investments for sponsorship and advertising—where 82% of revenue currently comes from.
And according to Grand View Research, eSports will generate a whopping USD 6.81 billion in 2027.
Over time, eSports will tap into bigger advertising budgets, and reach national, regional, and global levels, as traditional sports are able to. eSports will also be a medal event in the 2022 Asian Games, which could pave the way for full Olympic status.
And this is precisely what the IOC is banking on, to get a bigger bite of the pie at the expense of the existing IF’s for the sport.
The Olympic motto “Citius, Altius, Fortius” (“Faster, Higher, Stronger”) is slowly but surely being replaced by “Pecunia, Moola, Lucre” (“Money, Money, Money”)