Esports athletes will be a fully integrated part of the Santiago 2023 Pan American Games and the man responsible for making it all happen cannot wait
For Neven Ilic, President of Panam Sports and an International Olympic Committee (IOC) Member, it is simple: a vast proportion of the population he wants to see supporting next year’s Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile, play, support, and love esports. Therefore, he must give them what they want.
“For us, it is very important to connect our Games. Our reality with young people and esports is one of the ways to connect, and to engage all these people with our movement,” Ilic, 60, said.
“We will have 38 (traditional) sports, the same (as the 2019 Games) so what else was it that I could add to our Games to make them more attractive to different people?
“If you like tennis, fencing, gymnastics, you will be with us, but we want to have more audience, more people in the stadiums, and one way is through esports.”
Ilic, a storied sports administrator, has his sons, and perhaps the Global Esports Federation (GEF) itself, to thank for opening his eyes to the world of esports.
Many years ago, the former Director of the Tennis Federation of Chile and President of the Chilean Olympic Committee (COCh) bought his eldest son the first Mario Bros. game. They were both immediately hooked, with Ilic senior admitting that “for the first two months” he was leaving his office at 2pm every day to go home and play.
However, despite this enthusiastic introduction, Ilic found it difficult when his younger son, a fiercely committed gamer, told him recently he was not interested in following his father – a qualified engineer – into a traditional career. Instead, he wanted to focus on “the world he knew and loved”.
“I called Paul (CEO of the GEF),” Ilic revealed with a smile. “I said I had this personal situation, and I didn’t know what to do. Paul suggested we come to LA to visit the industry and see for ourselves, and to Orlando to visit the community and developments there. Now, my son is studying in Orlando at Full Sail University, which specializes in offering degrees in entertainment media and emerging technologies. He’s excelling in his studies and having the time of his life.
“I had to recognize that it is a huge industry, that we are older people trying to encourage our children to do the things that were normal for us, but this is not the real situation today.
“After that, I understood that I had to open my mind too for Americas’ Olympic Movement.”
The Panam Sports family, including the Presidents of the 41 National Olympic Committees in the Americas, were quickly convinced, with the organization going on to take the unprecedented decision to fully integrate esports athletes.
Those who qualify for the first Pan American Esports Championships will stay in the Santiago 2023 Athlete Village, parade in the Opening Ceremony, wear the same team uniforms, and compete for exactly the same medals as their counterparts in the rest of the Games’ sports.
“What is fantastic is that you have a lot of different (esports) competitions, team competitions, professional competitions but here you will represent your country and your flag, and that is completely different,” said Ilic, who added he is delighted to have the GEF on call during preparations.
“I love Paul’s passion for what he is doing, all of his team’s passion. Everybody is very proud of how they are growing, how they are involving more people, more partners, and more countries. I love to be part of this passion and I am feeling the same passion for the tournament here.
“When I listen to Paul speak, I am excited to be part of this world. We will enjoy working together for the next year.
With the Commonwealth Esports Championships in Birmingham in August 2022 a great success, Ilic believes the eyes of the world’s most accomplished sports administrators, not to mention fans, will now be on Santiago 2023.
For a man who has lived and breathed elite sport for most of his life – Ilic helped create the Association of Olympic Athletes of Chile and build Chile’s Olympic Training Centre during his time in charge of the COCh – it is an exciting prospect.
“I think many people are waiting to see what happens here. They are waiting to see what happens when you are involving 41 countries, having everybody in one place,” said Ilic.
“I am learning every day about this world. It is new for me, it is new for my team, but we are open to listening, understanding, and producing a great event in Chile for the Panam Sports movement, and for the youth of our dynamic continent.”