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Video games in the Olympics? IOC leader won't rule it out

The leader of the International Olympic Committee has shot back against suggestions that Saturday’s forum with professional video gamers might encourage “couch potatoes.”

The IOC has invited top e-sports players, executives and tournament organizers to participate in a series of discussions at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland.

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“We want to go into this meeting with a very open mind,” IOC President Thomas Bach told reporters during a Friday news conference. “We want to listen, we want to learn.”

Even the hint of adding e-sports to the Games has stirred grumbling within the Olympic Movement. It was only a few years ago that Bach himself touted physical education in schools by stating the need “to get the couch potatoes off the couch.”

On Friday, he said video games might be considered for inclusion only after his organization addresses a long list of issues.

“I still see no unity in the answer to the question: Is it sport?” he said.

Offering his personal opinion, Bach said pro gamers “prepare and compete in a way, and with physical demands, which can be compared to the ones in more traditional sports. You need long-time concentration, you need quick reaction, you need tactical understanding, you need to be not only mentally fit but also physically fit.”

Kai “deto” Wollin, who plays the “FIFA” soccer video game professionally, recently gave Bach a tutorial in the game. The IOC president also met with “Overwatch” star Jake Lyon.

IOC president Thomas Bach speaks at a news conference Friday in Lausanne, Switzerland.
IOC president Thomas Bach speaks at a news conference Friday in Lausanne, Switzerland. (Fabrice Coffrini / AFP/Getty Images)

“E-sports has certainly changed my life,” Lyon wrote on social media, adding that “to participate in the e-sports forum is something I don’t take lightly.”

But there are numerous practical concerns.

E-sports have no organized drug testing and encompass a dizzying array of organizers and games — including “League of Legends,” “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive,” “Dota 2” and “Hearthstone” — which could make any partnership with the IOC unwieldy.

Some games might be too controversial.

“The red line is, we cannot accept or support any games which promote violence or discrimination which are going against the Olympic values,” Bach said.

Still, the Games have for years fought to stay relevant, adding sports such as snowboarding, freestyle skiing and BMX bicycle racing in hopes of wooing young fans.

There is no chance e-sports would be considered for the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Games or 2024 Paris Games, Bach said. But he did not specifically rule out the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, saying that Saturday’s forum could mark the first step toward consideration.

“So I guess we will have an interesting day,” he said.

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