Olympic Summit defends Russian doping hiatus and declares eSports a sport
An Olympic Summit, comprising ‘leading representatives of the Olympic Movement’, on Saturday defended a hiatus in taking action over alleged Russian manipulation of doping samples, while confirming that eSports can “be considered as a sporting activity,” an apparent step towards eSports being included in a future Olympic Games.
The summit said of eSports: “Competitive ‘eSports’ could be considered as a sporting activity, and the players involved prepare and train with an intensity which may be comparable to athletes in traditional sports.
“In order to be recognised by the IOC as a sport, the content of "eSports" must not infringe on the Olympic values.
“A further requirement for recognition by the IOC must be the existence of an organisation guaranteeing compliance with the rules and regulations of the Olympic Movement (anti-doping, betting, manipulation, etc.).”
Tony Estanguet, the co-chair of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, recently said that he would not rule out eSports featuring on the programme of events when the French city hosts the games, albeit the IOC will have the final say on any additions to the games programme.
Russian doping The IOC has come under fire for a lengthy delay in responding to the McLaren Report, which alleged that a doping programme in Russia involved over 1,000 athletes competing in summer, winter and Paralympic sports (including non-Olympic sports).
The athletes were involved in, or benefited from, manipulations to conceal positive tests between 2011 and 2015, according to the report, which was commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency.
However, the summit said that a decision will be taken at the IOC’s executive board meeting on 5 to 7 December in Lausanne on whether Russian athletes will be permitted to participate at February’s winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, justifying the delay in reaching a decision by referring to the legal complexities surrounding an IOC investigation by a commission led by Denis Oswald, the veteran Swiss IOC member.
The summit said: “Due to the nature and complexity of the cases Mr Denis Oswald explained that a legally-defendable methodology has had to be developed specifically to conduct the forensic analysis necessary for all the cases under the jurisdiction of the Commission. This thorough, comprehensive and time-consuming process took several months, involving external forensic experts.”
However, rulings on individual cases will not be made by the commission, the summit noted, saying that “the findings of the forensic analysis of the McLaren Report could not be used to establish individual legal action because the methodology that Professor McLaren used was not designed to establish individual anti-doping rule violations.
“This was not part of Professor McLaren's mandate, as he himself has made clear on several occasions. This is why the Oswald Commission needed a new and more specific methodology which, after long research, was developed by experts at Lausanne University. Therefore, the IOC was unable to take action, except for the initiation of disciplinary cases against 28 athletes, until the methodology had been validated and produced the first results.”
The Oswald commission has announced that all hearings for active athletes who could qualify for the PyeongChang games will be completed by the end of November, the summit said, adding: “The outcome of the hearings will be announced as soon as possible after each individual hearing. This will allow the IFs to follow up with their disciplinary hearings immediately and to take the athletes concerned out of the qualification system as soon as possible.”
The summit added that it “expressed its strong concerns and considered it unacceptable that specific sanctions are already being demanded in the public domain before the two Commissions [a second IOC commission, chaired by Samuel Schmid, the former President of Switzerland, is also considering the issue] have even completed their work and due process, to which any individual and organisation is entitled, has been followed.”
The strong statement is apparently aimed at bodies such as the Institute of National Anti-Doping Organisations, which in August hit out at the IOC for the “secrecy” of its deliberations over how to punish Russia over its ‘state-supported’ doping scandal and insisted that a fine should be only part of the punishment.
Joseph de Pencier, iNADO’s chief executive, told PA Sport: “A lot of people in my community would like to see what [athletics’ governing body] the IAAF did at the World Championships in London, where several Russians competed as neutrals and did well.
“I can’t imagine many in anti-doping would be comfortable about Russian athletes under a Russian flag at the winter Olympics when we still have not had any analysis from the IOC on what actually happened at Sochi [in 2014].”
eSports and the Olympics The summit said that it has “asked the IOC together with GAISF [the Global Association of International Sports Federations, formerly SportAccord, the umbrella body of international federations] in a dialogue with the gaming industry and players to explore this area further and to come back to the Olympic Movement stakeholders in due course.”
A recent report by Nielsen, the US audience measurement company which launched a new eSports service last month, found that just 28 per cent of eSports fans want the pursuit to be included in the programme of the Olympic Games.
The report found that eSports fans in USA, UK, France and Germany were lukewarm on the prospect of it becoming an Olympic event.
In April it was revealed that eSports would form part of the official sports programme for the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, as a result of the Olympic Council of Asia’s strategic partnership with Ali Sports, an arm of Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce group that is investing heavily in sport and is also now a sponsor of the International Olympic Committee.
As part of its ‘ESports Playbook’ report, Nielsen surveyed 1,000 fans, between the ages of 13 and 40 in all four countries.
However, it has to be noted that the report did not take into account Southeast Asia, a key gaming market where eSports has nearly 40 million followers, according to Newzoo, the eSports market intelligence group.
The Olympic Summit comprised Thomas Bach, the IOC president, plus the four IOC vice-presidents, along with representatives of international federations and national Olympic committees, and their representatives bodies.