Esports event in PyeongChang before Olympics supported by IOC

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An esports tournament will be held in PyeongChang in February, days before the Winter Olympics, with support from the International Olympic Committee.

The Intel Extreme Masters tournament will be held Feb. 6-9, according to the Sports Business Journal.

Intel did not specify exact dates in Friday’s announcement but did say it will be in February and ahead of the Olympics. Intel is a global Olympic sponsor.

The PyeongChang Winter Games Opening Ceremony is Feb. 9, with competition starting the day prior.

“The IOC will now explore esport’s relationship with the Olympic Movement further,” Timo Lumme, managing director, IOC Television and Marketing Services, said in a press release. “This is the start of an exciting future, and we’re interested to see how this experience will play out.”

The esports tournament will feature the game “StarCraft II.” A separate exhibition featuring “Steep Road to the Olympics,” the official licensed game of the PyeongChang Winter Games, will also be held.

Last week, key Olympic figures, including IOC president Thomas Bach, said they believe esports “can provide a platform for engagement with the Olympic Movement.”

Esports is nowhere near becoming an official Olympic event. Esports does not have an international governing body recognized by the IOC, the first step toward potential Olympic inclusion.

“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,” read a press release from the IOC after a meeting last week.

In August, a Paris 2024 Olympic bid leader reportedly said he planned to talk with esports representatives and the IOC about gaming possibly joining the 2024 Olympic program.

Los Angeles 2028 Olympic bid chairman Casey Wasserman has praised esports.

“We view esports’ immense global popularity and continued advances in digital technologies as tremendous tools for reconnecting millennials with the Olympic movement,” Wasserman said in a press release last year. “LA 2024 [sic] will work to ensure technology enhances young people’s sports experiences, instead of replacing them, and becomes a platform for further popularizing Olympic and Paralympic sports.”

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Swim meet canceled after FINA’s threat to ban athletes

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GENEVA (AP) — Amid growing conflict between swimmers and their world governing body, an international swimming meet was canceled on Thursday after threats to ban athletes who took part seeking better prize money.

The Italian swim federation called off the Dec. 20-21 competition it was organizing in Turin, saying it acted to protect athletes from FINA.

The Turin meet was linked to a proposed International Swimming League, a privately run operation which aims to operate outside FINA’s control and pay higher prize money.

“FINA declared the event ‘non-approved,’ threatening sanctions against the participating athletes,” Italian officials said in a statement.

FINA, based in Lausanne, Switzerland, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Some Olympic champions have long criticized FINA, believing swimmers should be better rewarded, have more say in decisions, and could create their own union.

Olympic champion Adam Peaty of Britain wrote on Thursday on Twitter he was “incredibly disappointed” by the cancellation.

The politics involved will “galvanize swimmers, not break them,” wrote Peaty, who holds 50m and 100m breaststroke world records.

Peaty has previously supported Hungarian star Katinka Hosszu in her public criticism of FINA, and calls to create a swimmers’ union.

Italian organizers said Peaty, Hosszu and other Olympic champions including Chad le Clos of South Africa and Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden were due to take part in their 25-meter pool event. It was scheduled days after the short-course world championships being staged in Hangzhou, China.

The clash of events seemed to provoke FINA into finding more prize money for its worlds event in the smaller pool.

On Nov. 6, FINA added to its promised prize fund for China by almost doubling the total to $2.07 million.

FINA wrote to member federations on Oct. 30 warning of bans of up to two years for taking part in Turin.

However, a European Commission decision last year suggests swimmers could successfully challenge any attempt to limit their right to race and earn money.

The European Union’s executive arm ruled the International Staking Union in breach of anti-trust laws by threatening severe bans for speed skaters who wanted to compete in a South Korean-organized event in Dubai.

The ISU’s threats “also serve to protect its own commercial interests,” the European officials said.

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Simon Ammann believes ski jumping career end is near

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Simon Ammann, the most decorated active ski jumper with four Olympic gold medals, said it is hard to imagine competing beyond this season, according to Swiss newspaper Blick.

Ammann, 37, swept the individual Olympic titles in 2002 and 2010 to join retired Finn Matti Nykänen as the only four-time Olympic ski jumping champs.

In PyeongChang, his sixth Olympics, Ammann placed 11th and 13th, one month after making his first World Cup podium in nearly three years. He decided after those Winter Games that he would continue at least one more season, but has no plan to go all the way to a seventh Olympics in 2022, according to Blick.

Ammann has teased retirement since at least 2011 and even said going into the 2014 Sochi Olympics that he was “99 percent sure” they would be his final Games.

The now-father of two first gained crossover celebrity with his surprise Salt Lake City 2002 gold medals, his first wins in top-level international competition. The bespectacled Ammann’s victory screams and resemblance to Harry Potter helped land him on “The Late Show with David Letterman” and one of Europe’s biggest shows, sitting next to Shakira.

Fellow ski jumper Noriaki Kasai of Japan holds the Winter Olympic record of eight appearances. Kasai, 46, has said he plans to go for a ninth participation at Beijing 2022.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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