Motorsport Still Isn't Part Of The Olympics, But Gran Turismo Will Be, Kind Of

Mikail Hizal competes in the Paris round of the 2019 FIA Gran Turismo World Tour. Hizal went on to become world champion that year.
Mikail Hizal competes in the Paris round of the 2019 FIA Gran Turismo World Tour. Hizal went on to become world champion that year.
Photo: Clive Rose (Getty Images)

If you’re any good at Gran Turismo, you might be able to take part in an Olympics-sanctioned event later this year ahead of the Tokyo Summer Games.

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The International Olympic Committee announced a “Virtual Series” on Thursday featuring five games based on real-world sports that are recognized by their sports’ official governing bodies. Gran Turismo has an ongoing partnership with the FIA, so it’s the game the IOC will use for the auto racing portion of the event.

The Olympic Virtual Series will take place from May 13 until June 23, while the actual Olympics begin a month after that, on July 23. It’s unclear what format the Virtual Series will take, though the IOC says “additional information on how to participate, as well as prizes included with select events, will be announced soon.” No word yet on whether medals will be part of the festivities.

Besides Gran Turismo, the four other sports federations and their respective games will be:

  • World Baseball Softball Confederation – eBaseball Powerful Pro Baseball 2020 by Konami Digital Entertainment
  • Union Cycliste Internationale – Zwift by Zwift Inc.
  • World Rowing — “Open format” (further details to come)
  • World Sailing — Virtual Regatta by Virtual Regatta SAS

The Olympic Virtual Series is the culmination of an ongoing effort by the IOC to appeal to younger demographics through an increased focus on digital entertainment and esports. It’s also a response to the limitations imposed by the global pandemic.

Racing fans will note that neither auto racing nor any form of motorsport is featured in the Olympics, though one such event was contested unofficially as part of the 1900 Summer Olympics. In 2019, the FIA held its first Motorsport Games, combining a range of disciplines from touring cars to GT, karting, open-wheel and drifting. Esports was included as well. A total of 49 nations represented by 166 drivers attended the event.

Meanwhile, the FIA has been working with Gran Turismo developer Polyphony Digital on the FIA-Certified Gran Turismo Championships since 2018 — which is mighty entertaining to watch. Like the FIA Motorsport Games, the GT series includes a Nations Cup component, in addition to a Manufacturer Series where competitors are grouped together based on the vehicle they choose to drive.

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In fact, Gran Turismo Sport was initially conceived to allow players to earn some form of FIA accreditation by playing the game, though that element was stripped before GT Sport’s release. It supposedly would have required players to complete the Racing Etiquette portion (necessary to compete in the game’s Sport Mode anyway), register Silver rankings in all of the game’s Campaign Mode events and uphold minimum Driver and Sportsmanship Ratings. It also may have required a fee in certain countries — so maybe it’s for the best Polyphony ultimately ditched the idea.

Through these moves, the FIA has been courting esports and some version of international competition for some time now. This Virtual Series could be the first step toward integrating auto racing into the actual Olympic Games — in both real-life and digital forms.

DISCUSSION

By
Shane Morris

Okay, hear me out — I’m a gamer. My personal obsession is Hearts of Iron 4. I love Gran Turismo, and like many of you, I have loved it since the first version on Playstation. I think eSports are interesting, although they’re admittedly something I can’t truly follow, mostly because it’s just not interesting to me.

Here’s the problem with any eSports, especially when it comes to long-term inclusion: A 100m sprint won’t change. Downhill skiing may feature a different course or mountain, but the premise itself is the same. I know that whether it’s 1960 or 2060, a pool and the backstroke are going to be the same thing.

One of the big things about the Olympics is that you can hold the record in something for decades, and for the most part, truly compare athletes across generations. eSports just can’t exist that way, because even under the best circumstances, most games will only have a 5-8 year life cycle, and that’s being generous.

Lastly... and this is where I think we should draw a line in the sand: Olympic sports are a test of mental and physical fitness. Yes, even curling. (Which honestly just looks like a glorified Canadian drinking game, but I’ll acknowledge it takes some serious coordination to walk on ice while doing that broom thing and also aiming it.) I don’t care about the Olympics being “more inclusive” to younger generations, because most of the athletes you are watching are in their teens or early 20s anyway. It’s a sport that already attracts young people, because the contests are... young people.

I’m not some old, out of touch man in his yard yelling at the local kids to stay off my lawn. I’m 34, and I understand the attraction of eSports and gaming. I just want them to stay in their own goddamn lane. If you screw up on a ski jump, you might die. If you screw up in eSports... nothing happens. The stakes are totally different. (The same can be said for many Olympic sports. The physical obstacles are so massive in some of them, one slip can mean straight up death.)

Keep eSports out of the Olympics. Period. Stop pandering. It’s an insult to the actual goddamn athletes who spend tens of thousands of hours doing rigorous physical training to earn their place in the opening ceremony.