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eSports are great but Olympic inclusion a way off, says Games chief

By Robert Jones

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach believes the top eSports players are athletes but said there was little chance of gaming being added to the Olympic programme under his watch.

The former Olympic fencing champion was speaking in Lausanne yesterday after a three-day meeting of the IOC's executive board and on the eve of their first eSports forum.

That gathering will bring together sports officials and eSports leaders, and it comes after gaming was added to the 2018 Asian Games as a demonstration sport and 2022 edition as a medal event.

Asked by reporters if this meant eSports could be added to the Olympics soon, the 64-year-old German said: "My guess would be no. It's going to take some more time and until we've answered (a range of) questions it makes no sense to talk about involvement in the Olympic programme. My successor will have the opportunity to make that decision."

Bach, however, said he hoped this weekend's forum would help the Olympic movement find the answer to those questions.

"We're not going (to the forum) for a special solution but we're going with an open mind and to find answers to a wide range of questions, some are very basic," he said. "I still see no unity on the question 'is it even sport?'

"In my personal evaluation, these professional players prepare and compete in a way that can be compared to those who play more traditional sports.

"You need concentration, quick reactions, tactical understanding, you need to be mentally and physically fit. But I cannot say my personal opinion is shared by everybody."

He then listed several other issues that would have to be resolved before the IOC could consider introducing eSports: how would it be organised, which games would they play and who would make sure the IOC's rules and values are upheld?

Bach said this week's board meeting also dealt with the usual range of more traditional IOC matters - bids, doping and upcoming Games.

In terms of the Summer Games in 2020, Bach acknowledged concerns about the temperature in Tokyo but said that would be mitigated by the schedule, with heat-sensitive events being early or late in the day.

Swimming finals are not usually affected by the heat but they are influenced by time zones, most notably the fact that prime time in the United States means morning finals in Japan.

Bach denied that US broadcaster NBC had leaned on the IOC to gain this concession but said it had been a request by governing body FINA.

Finally, Bach said the IOC still needed to see more signs of positive change within boxing's AIBA before lifting the threat of removing it from Tokyo.

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