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Esports not a sport for Title IX in federal court ruling

US judge concludes competitive gaming lacks a governing body and does not require athletic ability.

24 February 2023 Steve McCaskill

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  • FIT had argued esports counted towards its Title IX compliance
  • Esports’ lack of conventional structure cited as obstacle

A judge in the US has ruled that esports does not count as a sport in the context of Title IX equality legislation.

The Florida Institute of Technology (FIT) had argued that esports was equivalent to its football, basketball and other sporting operations whilst defending itself in a lawsuit filed by six members of its men’s rowing team.

The plaintiffs alleged the discontinuation of FIT’s men’s and women’s rowing, cross-country and golf teams was a violation of Title IX – legislation introduced in 1972 that prohibits sex-based discrimination in any federally-funded school or education programme.

Their argument is that the closure of the rowing team will disproportionately reduce sporting opportunities for men based on a statistical analysis of enrollment. Although 71.3 per cent of the student body is male, only 64.2 per cent of the university’s athletes are men – meaning there would be a shortfall of athletic opportunities.

FIT countered this by arguing that its online-only students and esports programmes, which are male dominated, should be added to the analysis to prove that the potential shortfall of places was much lower. FIT said its esports teams were subject to the same selection process, and had access to the same support services and competitive schedules as its other sporting outfits, while esports athletes would be eligible for scholarships from 2023.

However, US district judge Carlos Mendoza has ruled esports does not meet the requirements for a sport. He said that not only are esports not sanctioned by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), they do “not require athletic ability.” Mendoza also cited the lack of a national governing body and the commercial dominance of the space.

SportsPro says…

Esports was never meant to be the focus of this legal case, but the ruling has consequences for competitive gaming’s battle for legitimacy. Esports events are now held in dedicated venues, in addition to attracting huge attendances and millions of viewers worldwide, while leading athletes can earn significant prize money and commercial income.

Rights holders have official esports competitions, while the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) are exploring how to integrate this rapidly-developing field into their multi-sport events.

However, legally and philosophically, there are barriers to acceptance. The case is ongoing, but could have implications for how US colleges calculate their compliance with Title IX, while highlighting that esports may have to adopt some of the conventions of traditional sports in order to be considered equal.

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