MUMBAI: The International Olympic Committee is exploring plans for the creation of Olympic Esports Games.

The announcement was made by IOC president Thomas Bach during the Opening Ceremony of the 141st IOC Session in Mumbai, in the presence of the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.

Bach noted that 3bn play esports and gaming around the world. It is estimated that over 500 million of them are interested specifically in esports, which includes virtual sports and sport simulations.

He said: “I have asked our new IOC Esports Commission to study the creation of Olympic Esports Games.”

The IOC has been engaging with esports since 2018 in a holistic way.

Bach said: “We chose an approach that would allow us to be active in the esports space while staying true to our values that have guided us for over a century. With respect to esports, our values are and remain the red line that we will not cross.

“Our crystal-clear position is gaining more and more respect also in the esports community. One of the leading publishers even adapted their popular game to conform fully with our Olympic values – so that players shot at targets, not at people,” the IOC President emphasised.

The first engagement of the IOC with the esports community was the organisation of the Esports Forum in 2018 in Lausanne, followed by the set-up of an Esports Liaison Group to have a platform to engage with all the esports stakeholders. In 2021, the IOC developed the Olympic Virtual Series. It was the IOC’s first pilot venture in esports.

Bach explained: “Building on the learnings from this Olympic Virtual Series, we then launched the Olympic Esports Week in Singapore earlier this year. In Singapore, we saw proof that our holistic approach is working. We successfully brought together the Olympic and the esports communities.”

A highlight of the Olympic Esports Week was the thrilling live finals, created in collaboration with the International Sports Federations (IFs) and publishers. Over 130 players from across the globe came together to compete in the Olympic spirit on the global stage, in 10 mixed-gender category events.

Players were cheered on by a full house of fans in Singapore, with all the action streamed online. Including the qualifiers, the Olympic Esports Series attracted more than 500,000 unique participants.

The Olympic Esports Series generated more than 6 million views of live action over all channels, with 75 per cent of views from people aged 13 until 34.

Bach also addressed the topic of artificial intelligence, saying: “Our continued success depends on how we embrace the ever-accelerating development of digital technology and in particular AI. This makes our Olympic Agenda 2020 imperative, ‘change or be changed’, even more urgent.”

He called for a change of mindset in the Olympic Movement in order to seize this opportunity: “The younger generation has a completely new way of thinking. They are living digital lives right now. We must not ignore their thinking if we do not want to jeopardise our own future. We must empower them to guide us with their young mindset.”

Bach said the IOC must be in the driver’s seat: “We have to devise a holistic analysis of the opportunities and risks of AI – and then take action immediately. I am happy to inform you that this work is already underway. If things go well, you may see some first consequences of this already in Paris.” The IOC has created an AI working group of experts to guide its efforts.

Noting that another key principle of the reforms of Olympic Agenda 2020 was that sport needs to go where the people are, the IOC president said: “This is true for both worlds – the real and the digital one. Today sport has to compete for the time and attention of young people. Therefore, we have to reach out to the youth where they are in this digital world. This is not just a technological imperative. This is also a demographic imperative.”

Continuing his opening speech, Bach noted the growing excitement for the Olympic Games Paris 2024, the “Games of a New Era” and the first to be organised fully in line with Olympic Agenda 2020 and Olympic Agenda 2020+5 from start to finish.

Political leaders have also expressed their support for the Games. Most recently, at their Summit in India, the G20 Leaders in their Declaration said that they “look forward to the Paris Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2024 as a symbol of peace, dialogue amongst nations and inclusivity, with participation of all.”