Do esports have a place in the Olympics? Doctors, researchers, athletes from Montreal and beyond say no

The Olympics have been assessing the inclusion esports, but Canadian health specialists, doctors and Olympic medalists say that that will only inspire inactivity in spectators.

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A letter sent to the Montreal Gazette co-authored by clinicians, doctors, health researchers, and Olympic medalists from Montreal and across Canada have a message for the International Olympic Committee: Esports — video games played competitively by professional gamers — have no place in the world’s most prominent sports festival.

Citing concerns over how video games are a sedentary activity with connections to player problems with sleep, weight gain, attention, concentration, and memory, as well as how hyperconnectivity can lead to gaming disorders and addiction, the signatories that esports can only inspire more inactivity —and all the baggage that comes with it — in spectators.

“We believe that an organization as influential as the Olympic Movement cannot in good conscience promote any type of electronic sports, which clearly encourage a sedentary lifestyle, a significant risk factor in the development of countless chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease,” the letter reads.

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“We, the undersigned, ask that the Olympic Movement abandon any plan that aims to introduce esports into the Olympic Games.”

It may seem strange to sports fans that the organizing committee behind one of the world’s most recognizable sports events would be considering the inclusion of gaming, but there’s multiple signs that it could be heading in that direction.

Editorials from the Olympic Studies Centre in Switzerland note that Olympic Summits dating back to 2017 have already come “to the conclusion that 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.”

Research papers on esports and their inclusion in the world of sports is mounting, and in some ways, they’ve already been implemented in a hybrid fashion: December 2020 saw trained cyclists compete in the first-ever Cycling Esports World Championships through the Union Cycliste Internationale, FIFA has its own annual FIFAe Club World Cup, and there’s more where that came from.

“Whether they could one day be considered for the Olympic programme — the answer is yes. It depends when this day is coming,” IOC President Thomas Bach stated during the 135th IOC Session in January 2020.

Esports can mean big business for the Olympics, but the co-authored letter already accounts for that. “We understand the importance of the funding challenge the Olympic Movement is faced with, and the interest there might be in obtaining support from big names in electronics and video games,” it reads.

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“However, we urge you not to fall into this trap, which would, unintentionally, promote an activity that, while entertaining, is unfortunately sedentary and would go against the spirit of the Olympics.”

The letter was co-authored and signed by the following:

  • Guy Desrosiers (CEO of Capsana)
  • Dr. Magali Dufour (Professor and researcher at UQAM)
  • Dr. Martin Juneau (Cardiologist at the Montreal Heart Institute)
  • Marie-Ève ​​Mathieu (Kinesiologist and researcher at CHU Ste-Justine)

And the following athletes:

  • Jennifer Abel, diving
  • Sylvie Bernier, diving
  • Charlie Bilodeau, figure skating
  • Alex Harvey, cross-country skiing
  • Jennifer Heil, freestyle skiing
  • Marie-Hélène Prémont, mountain biking
  • Marianne St-Gelais, short-track speedskating
  • Antoine Valois-Fortier, judo
  • Alexandre Bilodeau, freestyle skiing
  • Jasey Jay Anderson, snowboard
  • Kim Boutin, short-track speedskating
  • Pierre Harvey, cycling and cross-country skiing
  • Mikaël Kingsbury, freestyle skiing
  • Joannie Rochette, figure skating
  • Kim St-Pierre, hockey

jpkarwacki@postmedia.com

twitter.com/jpkarwacki

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Text of the letter

To the 103 active members of the International Olympic Committee To the International Federations To the National Olympic Committees For some time now, there have been rumours of the likely inclusion of video games (eSports) into the Olympic Games, and we would like to express our serious concern as well as our disagreement regarding this possibility. For many years, we have witnessed a significant increase in physical inactivity, obesity, chronic diseases, and cancers throughout the developed world. Science has shown that all of these “epidemics” could be greatly reduced, specifically by adopting a healthy diet and a physically active lifestyle. The IOC is an important voice and its Olympiads are unique and exceptional forums on an international level for the promotion of the values of Olympism, i.e., […] a philosophy of life, […]  combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind (source: the 1st principle of Olympism). The Olympics further the advancement of sports worldwide, inspiring millions of spectators to integrate more physical activity into their daily lives. Many athletes become role models for an active lifestyle and surpassing oneself, particularly for youth. The introduction of eSports into the Southeast Asian Games (in 2019), and eventually in the Olympic Games, would, in our opinion, convey a message that would be in contradiction to the spirit of the Olympics and the promotion of sports as a healthy activity. Here are the main reasons: Playing video games is a sedentary activity and does not generate the muscular and cardiovascular activation necessary to qualify it as a physical activity. Many recent studies show a close link between excessive screen time (including video games) and musculoskeletal, physical inactivity, sleep, excess weight, attention, concentration, and memory problems, etc. Hyperconnectivity can even lead to, in more at-risk individuals, the development of psychological distress and addiction. Gaming disorder is a real disease, now recognized by the World Health Organization (cf. ICD-11) and an increasing number of countries such as China and South Korea, who were the first to do so. The number of video gamers is experiencing exceptional growth across the globe, and numerous rigorous studies already document the harmful effects of regular play on the well-being of users, as well as the addiction video games can cause in some players. Today, all developed societies are grappling with the challenge of promoting the adoption of healthy habits among their populations, including a physically active lifestyle, with the aim of reducing the costs and harmful effects of physical inactivity on physical as well as mental health. We understand the importance of the funding challenge the Olympic Movement is faced with, and the interest there might be in obtaining support from big names in electronics and video games. However, we urge you not to fall into this trap, which would, unintentionally, promote an activity that, while entertaining, is unfortunately sedentary and would go against the spirit of the Olympics. Moreover, this would only serve to increase interest, particularly among youth, in electronic games, thus encouraging more time spent in front of a screen and less time allotted to physical activity. Several large commercial enterprises have long used sports to promote their products (tobacco, sugary drinks, fast food), even though these were all found to be harmful to health. In conclusion, we believe that an organization as influential as the Olympic Movement cannot in good conscience promote any type of electronic sports, which clearly encourage a sedentary lifestyle, a significant risk factor in the development of countless chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Consequently, we, the undersigned, ask that the Olympic Movement abandon any plan that aims to introduce eSports into the Olympic Games. We also ask that you not provide an additional platform for broadcast or promote the use of video games in the programming and broadcast of the Olympic Games. This hobby already has access to exceptional worldwide broadcasting and the financial means to hold lucrative and very popular contests around the world. Please, let’s not add to this with the Olympic Games. The extraordinary sporting event that is the Olympics must celebrate and value physical activity and carry the clear and unequivocal message that it is important to be physically active and dream of surpassing oneself through sports.

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