Michael Houston

The dissolution of the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF) little over a week ago was met with mixed criticism and the ripple effect of this decision is still being felt in sports governance.

A charismatic character, International Esports Federation (IESF) President Vlad Marinescu, was visibly frustrated with GAISF being metaphorically launched into the sun - and for good reason.

Esports has become a hot topic. Everyone and their kid wants to be involved. 

Football players are creating their own teams, as has hip-hop artist Drake; and actor and notorious slapper, Will Smith. 

It clearly has a place in our future. Young people are more engaged with gaming than ever before. 

Socialising online has become the norm since I was a teenager, children are not knocking on their friends' doors as much these days to ask them to hang out outside.

These trends were bolstered by the COVID-19 pandemic, seeing the public stuck indoors, unable to meet in public spaces. My sanity was saved during the lockdowns when I was part of a Scottish Football Manager online league and re-playing my old Pokemon games.

While I was doing that, my younger brother is in the other room swearing his head off at conceding a goal on FIFA. Maybe not the best advert for how esports can improve your well-being, but nonetheless he was participating in esports - just like so many others at that point.

FIFA is one of the most popular esports in the world ©Getty Images
FIFA is one of the most popular esports in the world ©Getty Images

While every physical sport lamented restrictions in some form or another, esports was one of the only sports thriving at the time. Virtual games and online play was reigning supreme. 

With that came interest. Companies and bigwigs asked, "how can we get on this?". Much like the cryptocurrency market, a lot of pretenders came with them. Several organisations claimed to be the governing body for esports, some with more legitimate claims than others.

Which brings us back to the present. 

Marinescu seemed to be holding back on what he said to members, not risking going into a rant. The IESF can be regarded as the closest thing to date to a recognised International Federation for esports. 

GAISF was close to complete satisfaction with the IESF, who had fulfilled 119 of the 120 requirements. The one missing was one of the most important ones - be viewed as the sole legitimate organisation for their sport. 

The IESF President occasionally dipped into saying what he thought on the situation, particularly about the Global Esports Federation (GEF), which can be considered the closest threat to the IESF's claim to governance, even if Marinescu does not seem too concerned about it.

When speaking to insidethegames, Marinescu did not mention any bodies in particular, but did question why "phantom" organisations were popping up. 

IESF President Vlad Marinescu spoke about recognition issues at yesterday's General Meeting ©Getty Images
IESF President Vlad Marinescu spoke about recognition issues at yesterday's General Meeting ©Getty Images

What the GEF cannot be accused of is riding the COVID-19 wave. The organisation was founded four months prior in December 2019 - all before lockdowns became part of everyday life. The IESF was founded in 2008.

The GEF are not flogging a dead horse here either. Major countries such as Britain are solely affiliated with the organisation, who also organised the Commonwealth Esports Championships in Birmingham.

Negotiations have not went smoothly between the two rival bodies. While other organisations - such as the World Esports Association - have merged into the IESF, the GEF has held out, resisting an effective buyout to secure that final GAISF requirement.

"We need total unity," said Marinescu at the Ordinary General Meeting.

"The situation today is GAISF is under dissolvement and who will decide sport is still being decided.

"Our biggest weakness is that there is another world body running around claiming other things."

Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Sultan, chairman of the Saudi Esports Federation, has reportedly been tasked to find a bridge between the two sides. The GEF vice-president is the peace-broker, so to speak.

The Global Esports Federation is regarded as the International Esports Federation's closest challenge in the way of recognition ©GEF
The Global Esports Federation is regarded as the International Esports Federation's closest challenge in the way of recognition ©GEF

"Prince Faisal is working diligently with both organisations to find out how we can fit this Tetris puzzle together," added Marinescu. 

"I hope we can find a solution where we have only one body.

"As we go forward, we will find the solution to make the best ecosystem for esports."

Following the General Meeting, I was able to meet the IESF President, who was re-elected unopposed following the late withdrawal of the United Arab Emirates' Sheikh Sultan bin Khalifa Al-Nahyan.

He spoke about the importance of GAISF in the process.

"The Board empowered me to decide the unity and as I mentioned then, in my opinion the total unification internationally was very important at that moment because we wanted to be recognised by GAISF because that would mean National Federations around the world would have no issues with being recognised by their National Olympic Committees or highest-sporting authorities," said Marinescu.

Plans fell apart in November 2021 during meetings between the two organisations and around the same timeframe, GAISF announced plans to disband. Questions point to who now leads the oversight of International Federations (IF) and whether the dissolution will give the International Olympic Committee more power over IF recognition.

What is clear is: the IESF narrowly missed the boat to full security, but is hopeful the body can do all it can in the meantime to dedicate its work to education programmes related to esports, as well as improving the number of participants, countries, amount of prize money and the number of game titles at future IESF World Championships.