Sports: Games need transparency
by Roger Brigham
An unprecedented teleconference call this weekend could provide an animated preview of next month's Federation of Gay Games annual meeting in Toronto. Put together, the phone call and the annual meeting may serve as a kind of unofficial "vote of confidence" on how well the FGG's decision to change its organizational structure is playing out five years later.
Delegates and former members of the FGG have been invited to take part in two conference calls this Saturday, September 24, to discuss the status of talks toward producing a modified Gay Games in 2018.
The subject of the "One Quadrennial Event," which is what folks who have lobbied for the end of the duel between the Gay Games and the World Outgames have taken to calling their envisioned event, is scheduled to be covered on the final afternoon of the FGG's annual meeting, October 22-25. It is the sole topic listed for the conference call this weekend for delegates and Honorary Lifetime Members.
This is the first time the FGG has ever scheduled a massive group call with its current and former members. If the member-submitted motions thus far for the annual meeting and the vocal concerns of a lot of longtime Gay Games supporters are anything to go by, both the phone call and the annual meeting could be highly charged, emotional affairs.
Just under eight years ago in 2003, Montreal organizers walked out after two years of bellicose negotiations to host the 2006 Gay Games. Montreal then established the rival World Outgames and created the Gay & Lesbian International Sports Association to oversee the awarding of future WOGs. The inaugural WOG was a financial disaster, losing more than $4 million. After the subsequent WOG in Copenhagen in 2009 finished in the black but drew a disappointing number of athletes and insufficient numbers for quality tournaments in the smaller, individual sports, calls accelerated for an end to future World Outgames.
No longer unchallenged as the premiere global LGBT sports, the FGG examined what went wrong and accelerated the overhaul of its organizational structure. In 2006 the FGG formally adopted the by-laws that transformed it from a flat membership structure in which every member was on the board, into a two-tiered membership assembly that votes on who serves on a smaller working board.
As a representative from Wrestlers WithOut Borders, I was one of the key instigators behind the structural change. The goal was to achieve a more stable board without the massive overturn the assembly was prone to: a board that could listen to what the members wanted and execute the plans necessary to achieve it. What I and most other supporters envisioned was an organization in which two-way communications between board and constituents - total transparency - became more critical than ever before.
As most of my repeat readers have long ago gleaned, I do not think that is quite what has happened. Individually I have no complaint with the members of the board. With only one or two glaring exceptions, all have treated me with respect and courtesy and I consider them friends. I even believe that at a broad strokes level, they want the same things as the FGG membership organizations.
But the discussions with GLISA, an organization founded to challenge the LGBT sports oversight model on which the Gay Games were built, have been held over the course of the past year without FGG membership being kept up on the substance of discussions, issues to be evaluated, or asked for thoughts. And as every public statement ever to come out of GLISA has insisted on inclusion of conferences in any joint venture (which has proven to be a costly venture at the expense of sports participants in the past) and been essentially dismissive of the FGG approach to sports event management, there has been a very natural distrust building among longtime Gay Games supporters - a distrust that has only deepened with every mention of tinkering with the name of the Gay Games itself.
Initially the FGG scheduled the teleconference for a week earlier before postponing the calls. In announcing the latest phone call invitation, the FGG sent out emails and posted a message on its membership discussion regarding the 1QE talks.
In addition to outlining the number of meetings the FGG representatives to the 1QE discussion group have held, the message stipulated, "Gay Games X will take place in 2018 based on FGG principles and values. The proposed event name is: Gay Games X |4th World Outgames: Together 2018. The 2018 sports requirements will be based on a recommended proposal from the FGG Sports Committee and will follow the FGG model of working closely with international federations, both LGBT and mainstream. There are absolutely no plans or discussions to merge FGG and GLISA. At this time, no approvals or agreements on any 1QE 2018 proposals have been finalized. Before the FGG is prepared to commit to 1QE 2018, the General Assembly will be asked to endorse any proposals or documents to be issued - as agreed at the Annual General Assembly in Cologne 2010."
But that generic summary of the discussions for some Gay Games supporters has raised more questions than it answered, and with the deadline last week for submitting motions for this year's meeting falling before the assembly review of 1QE talks, a rash of motions were submitted which are likely to take those discussions head on.
I drafted a blanket motion for WWB calling for the unaltered continuation of the Gay Games name; adherence to the sports and cultural focus from past Gay Games; FGG support for continental Outgames outside of North America and western Europe; resumption of the full EuroGames calendar; FGG retention of exclusive site selection rights to future Gay Games; and relegation of any sports-themed human rights conferences to an external, tertiary role. It is in substance the gist of an online petition I circulated two years ago that garnered wide support from past Gay Games participants and a motion that I put on the floor on the FGG membership in 2009. The entire discussion of that motion, which was almost universally supportive, appears nowhere in the FGG's official minutes.
Sion O'Connor of London's Out for Sports, a former FGG president, took a more piecemeal approach, drafting individual motions calling for term limits on FGG board members, calling for adherence to existing cultural and sports event requirements; continued branding of the event as the Gay Games; the directors to reaffirm they are respecting the legal requirements of the non-profit organization; an 87.23 percent share of control for the FGG in any ventures with GLISA based on the relative inequity of the resources they bring; detailed updates on discussions every two weeks; and allowance of more motions to be brought up once the assembly has had a chance to review the 1QE discussions.
While those motions collectively represent growing distrust in the current membership, just as or more disturbing is the unease growing among longtime supporters from Gay Games past. Reports are circulating that a number of key Gay Games supporters who have had the Gay Games in their estate wills are rethinking their bequests because of the suspected straying from the Gay Games brand and mission.
In the dramatic HBO series "Rome," Kenneth Cranham provided a marvelous portrayal of the Roman general Pompey Magnus. Conservative and in control, Pompey always tried to preserve a brave and calm front when things were going awry. "All will be well," was his litany for friends and family, spoken the last time to his children and wife just before the Egyptian allies he hoped would provide him refuge instead beheaded him.
As the Gay Games move forward, its supporters need less of Pompey's platitudes and more of his informed, strategic analysis. The conference call is a nice touch and hopefully a first step toward getting leaders and supporters back on the same page. But it will only serve to move things forward if the leaders can listen and respond to the concerns of the groups and individuals before they lose interest and leave the aging general to his own devices. All may be well, but we need more information and certainty before we approach unknown shores.
Pride Run volunteers needed
East Bay Frontrunners and Walkers and the Pacific Center will hold the seventh annual Pride Run & Walk on Saturday, October 8. The organizations are seeking volunteers to create and hold up mile marker signs and to work the registration and marketing tables, and staff the food and water stations.
Partial proceeds of the event benefit the Berkeley Pacific Center.
Morgan wins first European title
Openly gay powerlifter Chris Morgan of Great Britain won his first European Championship gold at the European Deadlift Championships in Volka, Estonia.
Morgan, who has already won six British championships and four world championships, made lifts of 215 kilograms, 240 kilos and a personal best of 265 with a body weight of 81.4 kilos to win the European title and the event's Best Lifter Award.