Have you ever dreamed of becoming an Olympian? Well now you have an opportunity to become one at home! The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has announced the launch of an inaugural Olympic-licensed event for virtual sports. The series, titled the Olympic Virtual Series (OVS), is a collaboration between the IOC and five International Sports Federations along with several game publishers.

As the world readies itself for the rescheduled Tokyo 2020, the IOC has made a landmark move to capitalise on the ever growing esports market. The OVS will include a mixture of physical and non-physical virtual sports and the series will take place between 13 May and 23 June in the runup to the Tokyo 2020 start date on 23 July of this year.

Who is involved?

The OVS will see five sports brought to life in homes around the world. Five sporting federations have partnered with various gaming publishers to bring the concept to fruition. The sports and their respective partnerships include:

Baseball: a partnership between the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) and Konami Digital Entertainment who have developed eBaseball Powerful Pro Baseball 2020;

Cycling: a partnership between the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and Zwift Inc. who have developed the Zwift app for cyclists to train and compete in a virtual world;

Rowing: World Rowing will host an open format;

Sailing: a partnership between World Sailing and Virtual Regatta SAS who have developed an online sailing race simulator; and

Motor Sports: a partnership between the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) and Polyphony Digital who have developed the successful Gran Turismo gaming series.

Other International Federations such as Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), International Basketball Federation (FIBA), International Tennis Federation (ITF) and World Taekwondo (WT) are also believed to be excited at the prospect of collaborating with the IOC in future editions of the OVS.

What is the goal?

The IOC have launched this series with the intention of fulfilling recommendation 9 in the Olympic Agenda 2020+5, which seeks to encourage the development of virtual sports and further engage with video gaming communities. The IOC hope that the series will tap into a younger generation of fans, creating a larger fanbase for Tokyo 2020.

While introducing these fans to the Olympic spirit and ethos is no doubt a worthy aim, the IOC will inevitably have also have been considering the financial benefits of expanding its reach in this way. The impact of the pandemic has clearly accelerated their move in this direction.

Olympian status

So, by participating in the OVS, will you actually be able to call yourself an Olympian? It sounds like a flippant question, but the kudos of calling yourself an Olympian is a high prize for years of hard work mastering an athletic pursuit. Athletes who have represented their country at the Olympic Games are able to register (via the World Olympians Association) to receive the right to use the post nominal letters “OLY” after their name (as you might use MBA, PHD or an MBE). This only extends to Summer and Winter Olympic Games, not the youth Olympics or other ‘lesser’ IOC sanctioned events.

As such, although the IOC hasn’t said either way if participants in the OVS will be considered Olympians, it seems highly unlikely. Nevertheless, by attaching the Olympic symbol (the famous five rings) to the OVS, the IOC is taking a big step. Perhaps we will soon be seeing virtual athletes lining up to get Olympic ring tattoos to match the likes of Tom Daley, Adam Peaty, Simone Biles and so many other ‘real’ Olympians who are proud of that status. Maybe one-day, some of these virtual sports will be incorporated within the ‘main’ Games and Olympic medals awarded. In the meantime, it remains unclear what prizes (which the IOC has stated will be awarded) the winners of the OVS will receive. Perhaps they'll receive a NFT! Times are certainly changing.

Let the games begin!