Tokyo Olympics lead-up will have an Olympic Virtual Series

The new OVS intends to engage with a more youthful audience. Photo: StreetVJ, Shutterstock.
The new OVS intends to engage with a more youthful audience. Photo: StreetVJ, Shutterstock.

So, it has been announced that sim racing is going to be part of the Tokyo Olympics.

Actually, that's not true, despite what many headlines said in late April. Ahead of the Olympics, from May 13 until June 23, there will be the first ever Olympic Virtual Series (OVS) comprising five different sports.

Two of them will be considered virtual because they require similar physical fitness, and these will be cycling and rowing. The others are called esports because they still require a high level of precision and skill, but not the same physical exertion. These will be baseball, sailing, and motorsport.

The platform that will be used for motorsport is the very popular game Gran Turismo Sport (GTS), which has been available on the Playstation 4 since October 2017.

Yes, I said game. In a story for newswheel.com Kurt Velan wrote "As a sim racer myself, the announcement has left me feeling conflicted. On the one hand, it's great that sim racing is getting more global recognition. On the other, it's a shame that the sim racing Olympics will not use an actual racing simulation." And I do tend to agree with him.

However, this will not be the first world-level sanctioned event for GTS. The world motorsports governing body, the FIA, have sanctioned an official esports competition with GTS since 2018, with proper video coverage, expert commentary in multiple languages, sponsorships and prizes, the lot.

Significantly, Japanese-born Brazilian driver Igor Fraga has won championships in both that FIA GTC series and in real life (most notably the 2020 FIA Formula 3 championship), so the cream still rises to the top.

It's far from the only platform that's been used for world-level competitions though, and 2020 really brought esports motorsport into the spotlight. The FIA used rFactor 2 for the Virtual 24 Hours of le Mans on the original dates for 2020's race. It was broadcast much the same as usual (and also shown on the FIAWEC Youtube channel), the same real life race director was in charge, and after using Discord to communicate with teams in the virtual event they decided to stick with it for the real life event a few months later.

The SRO Motorsports Group used their official platform Assetto Corsa Competizione to substitute real events last year, and have now incorporated an esports race with the real-life drivers into the weekend's schedule (also broadcast; see GT World on Youtube).

In 2020 Indycars, V8 Supercars, NASCAR and others used iRacing to each hold an officially-unofficial series to broadcast, and even if a handful of the drivers didn't take it seriously the sponsors certainly did (with a couple of drivers getting themselves into serious strife due to on-camera actions).

For the International Olympic Committee (IOC) the new OVS is about engaging a younger audience.

In a news release on olympic.org IOC president Thomas Bach said "The Olympic Virtual Series is a new, unique Olympic digital experience that aims to grow direct engagement with new audiences in the field of virtual sports. Its conception is in line with Olympic Agenda 2020+5 and the IOC's Digital Strategy. It encourages sports participation and promotes the Olympic values, with a special focus on youth."

The international federations (IF) for each sport have been engaged to make the OVS even more legitimate (the FIA in the case of motorsport), and the same news release also stated "The OVS creates a stage to connect the physical sporting world with the virtual and simulation sports gaming community, providing an opportunity to engage with the Olympic movement. Each IF will offer its corresponding event in a format that maximises online mass participation and prioritises inclusivity and participation through the OVS. The mass-participation series allows participants around the world to compete from home or their training facilities in order to generate excitement in the build-up to the Olympic Games".

Also of importance, the other false assumption is that you could win a gold medal for gaming at home. That's not true either, at least not this year. Anyway, if you want to see the OVS take a look at olympicchannel.com (you may need to use the site's search function for the word virtual).