Talks for single LGBT sports event collapse
by Elliot Owen
Recent negotiations between the Federation of Gay Games and the Gay and Lesbian International Sport Association aimed at initiating the creation of a joint international LGBT sporting event in 2018 ended in disagreement and suspension by both groups this month.
Informal talks between both organizations about holding a single quadrennial event in lieu of two competing events began in late 2009 at the Copenhagen World Outgames. The FGG has been holding the Gay Games since the event's founding in San Francisco 30 years ago while GLISA has been holding the World Outgames since 2003.
"A letter was delivered at an open meeting in Copenhagen by the Berlin team signed by all their members asking the organizations to come together and talk to produce joint games," GLISA representative Julia Applegate said in an interview with the Bay Area Reporter . "They made it very clear that this was something they wanted to see happen and that there were many other teams that wanted the same thing."
FGG board member Roger Brigham also remembers the request for a joint event. He said the small number of registrants at the Copenhagen Outgames prompted the call. An estimated 8,000 participants were expected but only around half that number showed.
"Some of the organizations in Europe started calling for just one quadrennial event," said Brigham, who is the sport columnist for the B.A.R. "Well, for 20-something years there was just one quadrennial event which was the Gay Games. Essentially, they were saying that they did not want the World Outgames to continue. It was a redundancy that could not be afforded."
A year later, the 2010 Gay Games in Cologne drew 10,000 participants.
To address the issue of a joint event, a formalized working group comprised of four representatives from both FGG and GLISA was created earlier this month. Over the weekend of May 5, the group met in Montreal on behalf of their respective boards to produce a memorandum of understanding that would serve as the first step toward a joint event to be held in 2018.
According to FGG's press release, the two organizations found common ground on issues like "the division of voting rights, governance for site selection and host relations, the time and location of the joint site selection meeting and the name of the joint event" but two major points of contention stalled the negotiations.
"A major sticking point was the revenue structure for the host city," Applegate said. "There was a sense that because [FGG has] been around longer, their brand is stronger and so they should take a larger percent of the revenue."
The initial revenue structure proposal outlined that the first $400,000 made by the host city would be split evenly by FGG and GLISA and the next $100,000 would go to FGG. Any additional revenue would be allocated based on a third-party assessment and evaluation of the two organizations.
"[GLISA] did not agree to an external evaluation and assessment until late and said the assessment would only kick in after there had been a distribution of $500,000 between the two organizations," Brigham said. "They were talking about revenues that had never been produced by any such event so that would render an evaluation meaningless."
The FGG team proposed another offer. The first $200,000 in revenue received from the host would be split and additional revenue would be shared based on an assessment and evaluation of both organizations. GLISA declined the proposal.
"It was not a financial arrangement that would have been viable for GLISA," Applegate said. "The concept of equity was a driving force behind GLISA's approach to these talks. We needed to come to that table as equals and the revenue split offered was so unbalanced that we felt it was not going to be a good foundation for doing joint games together."
Former FGG president and current board member Gene Dermody argues that the organizations are fundamentally different and therefore cannot be seen as equals.
"GLISA is not at the level of the federation in terms of business," Dermody said. "The FGG has been around for a long time, is a nonprofit sponsored by the state government and has a huge amount of intellectual property. GLISA has just a dozen people with no I.D. and no databases. They just get together in a room and have a site selection whereas we have a whole event like the Olympics."
Ken Craig, an eighth-degree black belt tae kwon do instructor, has participated in both the Gay Games and World Outgames. While Craig maintains respect for GLISA, he remembers that his experience at the 2009 Copenhagen World Outgames was disappointing. GLISA contacted him two years prior, asking him to oversee the martial arts section of the event.
"I figured it would be worth trying to support the event basically so that there would be an event for anybody that had already signed up," Craig said.
But from the beginning, he said, GLISA was less than forthcoming about the number of participants registered.
"When I finally got the numbers, I think it was 25 participants. I was pretty disappointed by the lack of communication and openness. I'd indicated that at Gay Games they get 100 to 150 participants. I thought that to be the minimum needed to make it a successful, useful event and they ensured that they would get that number."
After his experience, Craig decided that he and his martial arts club would not support future World Outgames.
Dermody also attended the 2009 Copenhagen World Outgames and thinks that the problem with the GLISA model is that after leasing the license to the host city to hold the event, GLISA takes the registration fee money and neglects to involve itself further.
"They run it like it's a rock concert; you buy tickets to but there's no delivery on the back end, no information," he said.
GLISA and FGG also could not agree on the method through which voting on the host city would occur. The FGG insisted that a selection meeting be held where delegates from both organizations attend and vote in person. However, GLISA favored electronic voting.
"We see ourselves as a global organization," Applegate said, "and given people's finances, distance and time, travel, and the technology that's available right now, we're confident a host city can produce and conduct a presentation of what they have to offer electronically so that our voting members can see that wherever they are in the world."
Both organizations have suspended future negotiations regarding a joint event in 2018, citing the need to focus on their own upcoming 2013 World Outgames in Antwerp and 2014 Gay Games in Cleveland.
The FGG officially opened the bidding process to prospective Gay Games X host cities on May 15. Serious bidding plans are expected from London, Orlando, Paris, and Sao Paulo.
Craig is among many who have expressed their support for San Francisco to be a host city in the future.
"A lot of people think it would be a reasonable idea," he said. "I'm not sure we could do it in time for Gay Games X, which is in 2018. I think it's more likely we could look at Gay Games XI in 2022."
Conflict between GLISA and FGG dates back to 2003 during the site selection process for Gay Games VII. After Montreal was selected, a licensing agreement could not be reached and prompted the city's representatives to walk out on negotiations. Subsequently, GLISA was founded and planning for the first World Outgames began.