E-sports is growing in popularity Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has vouched a unpreferential path while cautioning sports federations from keeping away from the newly launched Global E-Sports Federation (GEF).

The IOC’s E-Sports and Gaming Liaison Group (ELG), chaired by International Cycling Union President David Lappartient, has written to all to the summer and winter International Federations (IFs) telling them they do not plan to recognise any organisation as the world governing body for e-sports.

The Singapore-based GEF was launched last December and is backed by Chinese technology company Tencent. It was set up with the aim to “establish the credibility, legitimacy and prestige for e-sports” and build “an inclusive platform to bring together all the stakeholders from the e-sports industry to help shape the GEF mission and maximise the potential for e-sports and its participants”.

The GEF has strong links to the Olympic Movement with Chris Chan, secretary of the Singapore National Olympic Council as its president, and Paul Foster, the IOC’s former head of protocol, events and hospitality as its chief operating officer.

The GEF was set up as a rival to the South Korean-based International E-Sports Federation (IESF) that was established in August 2008 with the to have e-sports recognised as a legitimate sport. Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Kuwait were the latest members enrolling with IESF along with Morocco, Malta and Congo for a current membership of 88 nations.

At its launch, Chan set GEF the aim of Olympic Games inclusion, claiming they could help end the “misunderstanding” of e-sports, which continues to grow in popularity and has started to enter the Olympic Movement. Since its launch, several Olympic sports have become members of the GEF, including archery, canoeing, karate, modern pentathlon, surfing, taekwondo and tennis.

Further, the Olympic Council of Asia and the Commonwealth Games Federation have also signed agreements to work with the GEF.

On the other hand, the IESF has not signed deals with any Olympic sports and instead channels its efforts into hosting the E-Sports World Championship, the organisation’s flagship competition where e-sports athletes represent their national teams.

The ELG — which also includes the Presidents of both the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF) and Association of International Olympic Winter Sports Federations (AIOWF), Francesco Ricci Bitti and Gian Franco Kasper, respectively and Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF) head Raffaele Chiulli — revealed it does not plan to work exclusively with one organisation.

“The IOC position is that it does not and is not planning to recognise an e-sports federation,” the letter from the ELG has stated.

“We have strong existing relations with the different stakeholders in the e-sports and gaming community, such as games publishers, platforms, athletes and players. We will maintain these direct relationships rather than working through a third party.”

“Both of the organisations [IESF and GEF] who reference themselves as e-sports federations have representatives on the ELG and we will continue to welcome the contribution of these individuals. However, the IOC does not endorse or recognise any specific federation as a representative body in this area,” the letter said.

“This is a position shared by ASOIF, AIOWF and GAISF, and as a result we do not encourage IFs to enter into a formal relationship with these organisations,” it added.

The potential inclusion of e-sports in the Olympic Games is a contentious topic, but the ELG claimed the IOC remains “committed to supporting IFs in this area of innovation and engagement”.

The group plans to organise a video working session with the IFs before presenting its annual report on e-sports to the Olympic Summit in Lausanne, on December 12.

“[The IOC] is actively engaged in exploring the opportunities and initiatives to engage directly with this young digital community in order to promote participation in sport, engagement with the Olympic Movement and promotion of Olympic values,” the ELG letter added.