Auto racing is not an Olympic sport, but then again, neither are any esports. However, a “roadmap” produced by an IOC panel in February of recommendations for the next several years included sections on growing digital engagement and on encouraging the development of virtual sports. It appears the IOC is intent on doing just that, but it will start with something of a toe-dip into the virtual waters.
“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,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in a statement. “It encourages sports participation and promotes the Olympic values, with a special focus on youth.”
According to the IOC, each OVS event is being run via coordination between a given sport’s IOC-recognized international federation and a corresponding gaming publisher. In the case of auto racing, contestants will play Gran Turismo, as agreed upon by manufacturer and Sony subsidiary Polyphony Digital and the International Automobile Federation (FIA).
The World Baseball Softball Confederation and Konami Digital Entertainment are teaming up to offer eBaseball Powerful Pro Baseball 2020, and the International Cycling Union (UCI) is working with Zwift Inc. to use its popular program, Zwift.
World Sailing has already developed a partnership with Virtual Regatta SAS for the latter’s Virtual Regatta simulator. For the World Rowing Federation’s entry, the IOC’s initial announcement listed, “Open format.”
The announcement did not say whether winners will receive any form of Olympic medals. The Washington Post has learned there will be prizes of some sort awarded for the OVS events. Organizers promise that many more details will be announced in the days ahead.
“The OVS is an exciting step forward for the virtual sports world and the Olympic Movement,” IOC official David Lappartient said in a statement.
The head of the organization’s Gaming Liaison Group (ELG), Lappartient informed international federations in October (per Inside the Games) that the IOC would not be recognizing any of the groups that have been created with the intention of serving as esports governing bodies. The IOC suggested in its announcement that it might be looking to establish its recognized international federations as esports governing bodies.
The OVS “supports the [federations] in further establishing virtual and simulated forms of sports as a discipline within their regulations and strategies,” the IOC stated.
Other sports federations that have expressed an interest in future OVS installments, per the IOC, include FIFA, as well as bodies that oversee basketball, tennis and taekwondo.
Helping produce and market the OVS will be DreamHack Sports Games, a Denmark-based company that runs sports simulation games. Previous DreamHack partners on virtual offerings include the NHL and golf’s European Tour.
IOC officials have been mulling the inclusion of video games at least as far back as 2017. In the meantime, real-life sports added in recent years with an eye toward attracting a younger audience include skateboarding, surfing and, debuting in 2024′s Paris Games, break dancing.
This year’s Summer Games, which will take place from July 23 to Aug. 8, are still officially called Tokyo 2020 after the coronavirus pandemic caused their postponement last year. The OVS is scheduled to unfold from May 13 to June 23.