It looks like violence in video games is still the big hurdle to bringing esports to the Olympics.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Associated Press at the Asian Games over the weekend, where esports was being held as an exhibition event, International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach downplayed any hopes of bringing esports to the Olympics.
“We cannot have in the Olympic program a game which is promoting violence or discrimination. So-called killer games. They, from our point of view, are contradictory to the Olympic values and cannot therefore be accepted,” Bach said.
Some might argue that, hey, the Olympics has sports like boxing and fencing, which involve violence and weapons. But Bach, who won a fencing gold medal at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, has a counter-argument.
Said Bach: “Of course every combat sport has its origins in a real fight among people. But sport is the civilized expression about this. If you have egames where it’s about killing somebody, this cannot be brought into line with our Olympic values.”
Setting aside for a moment that the IOC has a long history of behavior that is “contradictory to the Olympic values,” like, say, bribery and even more bribery, Bach seems to be missing the forest for the trees here, painting esports with an incredibly broad brush, something he’s done before when talking about esports.
And, yes, a lot of popular esports titles, like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive or the Call of Duty games, are violent. But Bach’s comments seem like they’d even rule out games where the violence is far more cartoonish, like League of Legends which, for what it’s worth, is one of several games included in the Asian Games’ esports program.
And what of games like the Super Smash Brothers series? Is a cartoon plumber throwing balls of flame at a giant walking ape with a necktie too violent for the Olympics?
The IOC is, sadly, relying on the old hand-wringing trope about video games being too violent. It’s perfectly fine if the Olympics wants to hand-pick the games it allows into its programming.
But to behave like all esports titles are the same is the kind of ignorance that could stunt efforts to build a younger audience who might not give a damn about rhythmic gymnastics and short track speed skating.