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Even post-coronavirus, will esports replace real games?

A crowd watches an esports competition.
A crowd watches an esports competition.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Warning that “things will not be as they were before,” the head of the Olympic movement has suggested that when the coronavirus pandemic finally subsides, it might leave behind a world with fewer big-time sports events.

And maybe more esports.

In a wide-ranging letter published on Wednesday, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said the fallout from COVID-19 has revealed a current system under financial strain from so many competitions.

“At this moment, nobody knows what the realities of the post-coronavirus world will look like,” he wrote. “What is clear, however, is that probably none of us will be able to sustain every single initiative or event that we were planning before this crisis hit.”

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Bach added: “We shall also have to consider what social distancing may mean for our relations with e-sports.”

When sports returns there could be big changes -- face masks, thermometers and social distancing -- in order to protect everyone from the coronavirus.

As of Wednesday, there were more than 3 million confirmed cases and 218,000 deaths related to COVID-19 worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The pandemic has forced the IOC and Tokyo organizers to postpone the 2020 Summer Olympics for a year. A medical official in Japan said Tuesday that holding the massive competition at any time will be “difficult” without the development of a reliable vaccine.

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A top IOC executive disputed that notion on Wednesday.

“The advice we’re getting from the [World Health Organization] says we should continue to plan for this date,” John Coates told the Australian Associated Press. “And that is what we’re doing, and that’s not contingent on a vaccine.”

In regard to esports, the IOC had previously held discussions with game makers while maintaining what it calls a “red line” between real-life sports and video games.

The leader of the International Olympic Committee has shot back against suggestions that Saturday’s forum with professional video gamers might encourage “couch potatoes.”
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The coronavirus pandemic could blur that demarcation, with Bach urging sports federations to be open-minded.

“We encourage all our stakeholders to ‘consider how to govern electronic and virtual forms of their sport and explore opportunities with game publishers,’ ” he said, quoting from a recent IOC statement.

“This new situation will need all our solidarity, creativity, determination and flexibility,” Bach wrote. “We shall all need to make sacrifices and compromises.”


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