Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 49 / 7 December 2017
 

Jock Talk: Disorganized EuroGames comes to a close

NEWS


jocktalkroger@yahoo.com

Jakob Jansson, president of the Stockholm EuroGames, heard from many athletes about the shortcomings of last weekend's event.
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The 15th EuroGames came to a close last weekend in Stockholm, Sweden. Some of the participants headed home with joyful memories, others with angry disappointment, and many with a bit of both. But while some left vowing never to compete in another EuroGames, others were already looking forward to trying again next year in Helsinki, Finland – and talking about organizing fellow athletes to be able to defend their rights better.

Most of the anger from participants was directed at Swedish organizers, whom athletes said failed to listen to their concerns and advice and wound up with ill-conceived schedules and questionable safety precautions. (See August 6 JockTalk and the August 7 blog post at http://www.ebar.com.)

The European Gay and Lesbian Sport Federation, sanctioning body for the EuroGames, emailed members this message: "For those of you who are participating at the 2015 EuroGames in Stockholm, and especially if you have been affected by the lack of organization and communication, we owe you a sincere apology. As licensor of the EuroGames we take the responsibility of the success of the games very seriously, and we are determined to find out why these situations occurred. We will be investigating each of the events that caused the problems in depth, and we also invite you to email your comments and experiences to egs@eglsf.info. We will take this information and work to make the future of the EuroGames a better experience."

Now, it is easy to beat up on the EGLSF and indeed a handful of people on a Facebook page – "Eurogames Stockholm Critic" – set up for folks to vent their frustrations did precisely that. But as one who has spent the past dozen years working with the Gay Games and its hosts, let me say that is bunk. EGLSF is not set up to run a EuroGames anymore than the Federation of Gay Games is set up to run the Gay Games or the Gay and Lesbian International Sport Association is set up to run the World Outgames. By definition, any of these licensing agencies must have a level of trust in the host organization selected to meet minimum standards to the best of its abilities.

In the past, the EuroGames have pretty well run to participants' satisfaction and EGLSF has not had to follow up with damage control. This cycle is an apparent aberration, and EGLSF will undoubtedly do everything it can to fight against a repetition and further damage to the brand. Some of the athletes who feel they got screwed over say they will depart never to return. Others hope to organize their fellow athletes better so that they can force hosts to respond to their concerns in advance so that they may enjoy the experience.

But the bitterness on Facebook continues to grow as more and more information is exchanged. Last week I reported on scheduling and venue problems in track and field, swimming, volleyball, badminton, and squash, as well as the last minute cancelation of triathlon. Since then, reports have surfaced of problems in multiple other sports and some athletes accused organizers of outright lying. Mostly they blamed inexperienced Stockholm organizers for failing to respond to questions and concerns from the sports community months before the games were ever held.

Among problems reported last week:

• Water polo was scheduled to run over three days, then was cut back to one and a half days. "No explanation was provided," one player wrote. "Teams had to play some matches within an hour of each other, which violates [International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics] rules. We finished just before 10 p.m. on Friday and were back in the pool just after 7 the next morning. Finishing so late on the Friday meant that none of us could participate in the Pink Flamingo event. Helsinki is not listed to have water polo next year. Given the poor show we experienced in Stockholm, I very much hope EGLSF reconsiders this decision and looks to stage water polo next year and do so much better than it did this year."

• In dancesport, Heather Gladding of London, a veteran in past EuroGames, Gay Games, and Outgames, reported the event eventually ran well, but not until dancers had to jump in and finish installing the dance floor, which was stacked in boxes when they arrived. She said the action plan the European Dance Association provided organizers had not been followed to prepare for the event. "I do hope that Stockholm [organizers] are held accountable for their actions and that Helsinki will certainly make an effort to make the next games a success," she wrote.

• Participants reported their free public transportation card ceased working a day before the end of the games.

• In track and field, as previously reported, age groups were unexpectedly combined into 10-year increments instead of the standard five-year groupings. But different weight equipment is used in different age groups that were lumped together, and it is believed that many of the throws in javelin and shot put were done using the wrong equipment, invalidating the results.

"This is not fair play and should not be in the result list," Stockholm competitor Annika Fivel wrote. "Because I am not only in this for fun, I want it to be fair. I want it to be a competition like any other. I don't want it to be an unreliable game! But unfortunately it was!"

"In shot put, 80 percent of the throws were invalid," Stockholm's Jorgen Wehmonen charged. "I am embarrassed to be a Swede and embarrassed of my city. One of the most stupid things this organization did was to put their heads in the sand and hold their hands around their ears and not listen to one thing, hoping by ignoring people the storm of criticism would calm down. I am sorry for all participants of what we have showed you how we organize things in Sweden. Never heard or seen anything like it before here in my life. Let's hope that Sweden or Stockholm are banned for the next 30 years to host any EuroGames – we don't deserve it."

• As noted on the blog post, the triathlon was canceled hours before the scheduled start ostensibly because of poor water conditions and unsafe road conditions. But the triathletes challenged organizers to show any health report indicating unsafe water and countered they believed the organizers had failed to secure enough lifeguards and volunteers to help athletes get out of the water. Those who emailed Jakob Jansson, president of the Stockholm EuroGames, personally were promised free tickets to a closing party. Several triathletes demanded and were promised registration refunds, while others said they could not get a full refund because they had also signed up for other events. Still others were asking for hotel and bike rental refunds.

Lessons learned? Putting on a participatory multisport event is a complex task that requires a high level of commitment and sports expertise – an expertise most host cities lack. Hosts with limited experience by definition should seek out community involvement from sports groups – it not only helps the events run smoothly, the pre-tournament interaction is part of the social experience that make such events so emotionally rewarding. And athletes have long memories – they don't like to get burned more than once.

"I've met so many fantastic athletes and made many new friends during the past few days," Gunnar Jonson, a Swedish native living in Denmark, wrote Jansson. "This has made coming to EuroGames worthwhile for me. Getting together with international triathletes at Hellasgarden for our impromptu Plan B event has left me with lasting pleasant memories. I am still trying to uncover what was the REAL reason for the organizers to cancel the triathlon competition in the very last minute. I have never ever experienced anything similar in the many years as a triathlete."

Jonson said he felt organizers dealt triathletes a "slap in the face."

"It is also a riddle for me why the organizers have chosen to remove all traces of the EuroGames Stockholm Triathlon Championships from the online media," he added. "At the EuroGames Stockholm website there is no mention of a triathlon event. All evidence surgically removed. This is the type of conduct I would expect from a dictatorship wanting to hide and silence uncomfortable truths. I do hope that EGLSF will ensure that EuroGames Helsinki turns into a huge success – looking forward to seeing you all there again."

 

 






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