Here we go. The thin end of the wedge has just been announced with the International Olympic Committee confirming a serious move into virtual sports with the announcement of the Olympic Virtual Series drawing in the confederations of Baseball, Cycling, Sailing, Rowing and…motor racing.
This is all part of the Olympic Agenda 2020+5 which states: “Encourage the development of virtual sports and further engage with video gaming communities” and with the event starting on May 13th and running through to 23 June already the International Federations of Football, Basketball, Tennis and Taekwondo are eyeing inclusion in the next one for Paris 2024.
The relentless drive for youth and urban engagement continues and you can see this becoming both wildly popular and massively lucrative for the Olympic movement. In fact, give it a generation or two and it could easily surpass the revenues derived from the physical Games and more crucially, once us old dinosaurs die out, the Virtual Games will most likely become way more prized than actually doing sport for real.
Tough as that sounds, the relentless drive to digital in everything and every part of our lives is totally unstoppable. Running around a field, jumping over a bar, sailing on foreign waters, leaping around a court after a ball or actually physically fighting someone could become as daft a concept to future generations as competing on a screen is to us.
We’re already seeing the YouTube phenomenon in world boxing and the much-anticipated Fury vs Joshua fight in the summer is a mere side-show in financial terms to Floyd Mayweather taking on YouTuber Logan Paul on June 6th at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami.
That’s the mega-fight of the year when you measure the eyeballs and count the dollars. It’s insane. A fighter past his glory days, cashing in for all he’s worth and a YouTuber with a gazillion followers who’s one step up from the white-collar boxers where Dave from Accounts takes on Brian from the Trading Floor. It’s insane but it’s reality.
The Olympic sailing event will be hosted on the Virtual Regatta website and I’m sure there are some back-slaps happening at World Sailing who are desperate to curry favour with the IOC. It’s a shrewd move but does little to address the 10th medal debacle for Paris 2024 which, when you read the tea leaves and try and untangle the cat’s cradle of bureaucracy that World Sailing is wound up in, looks like being handed back meekly and apologetically.
It will never return if that happens. Sailing fundamentally is out of favour. It’s expensive, elitist and rich nations keep winning the medals, plus the boats are dull and politics is rife in the governing body. An exit stage left with a whimper amidst a flurry of finger pointing and shoulder shrugging is inevitable. Virtual sailing could be the only game in town pretty soon.
Sad but inevitable.