Jock Talk: Fiasco in Miami
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Until last week, internet searches for the words "World Outgames Miami 2017" offered scarcely any mention of the quadrennial event scheduled in Miami Beach other than a handful of exceedingly positive promotional puff pieces touting the thousands of athletes, artists, and "thought leaders" expected to enjoy the opening and closing ceremonies. Now, after those ceremonies and the vast majority of its sports programs were abruptly canceled just hours before the scheduled opening (See, www. ebar.com/blogs, "Outgames' ceremonies and sports canceled at last minute"), online media outlets have been erupting with stories of angry, frustrated athletes; calls for government investigations into the organizers and their suspected misuse of funds; and widespread calls for an end, once and for all, to the Outgames.
Athletes, government backers, and sponsors alike were being reassured by Outgames organizers until the last minute that everything would go on as scheduled and finances were not a concern â€" even after several sports events were canceled in the two months leading up to the games, registrations were abysmally low, and behind the scenes local government was being asked for a $250,000 bailout less than 24 hours before the event was called off.
"It is incredibly disappointing that organizers would guarantee the public they would not cancel the event, then wait until hours before the opening ceremony to cancel it," Cyd Zeigler, co-founder of Outsports.com, wrote last Friday. "Athletes are now stuck with vacation time they may not want and travel costs they will never recover. The news today will have one lasting international impact: This is the end of the World Outgames."
(Note to readers: Buenos Aires has already declared its intention to bid for World Outgames 2021 and has a Facebook page to market its bid. Someone should send them this and other stories on the Miami Outgames experience to warn them. We don't want to be crying in Argentina four years from now.)
The only official Outgames sports to be held were aquatics, soccer, and country western dancing, and even those were affected by a scarcity of promised volunteer help and transportation services. A few other sports tournaments were hastily organized by athletes stranded in Florida after the canceled Outgames.
Denver swimmer Dirk Smith was one of those who competed in the scheduled swim meet.
"The sudden and shocking cancellation of the 2017 World Outgames Miami was not surprising, nor unexpected," Smith wrote for Compete Network. "There have been red flags for at least a year. Myself and many other athletes, in addition to the City of Miami and Dade County, have raised concerns and have done our best to provide support and assistance to World Outgames and Gay and Lesbian International Sport Association to help ensure the event's success.
"Most of this support, however, has been simply ignored, and now we see the result," Smith continued. "The future of LGBTQ sport is a world without the Outgames and GLISA. It is time for those organizations to understand and accept their failures to achieve their goals and missions and to cease to exist. They have not accomplished anything to advance the causes of LGBTQ, and, specifically, sports communities. Even if GLISA can somehow salvage anything from this and try to organize another event, nobody will register. Including myself. I am embarrassed enough to have put my name, brand, and reputation behind this event. As athletes, we must expect better. In fact, we must demand better."
Thus, the Outgames die the way they were born more than a decade ago: with arrogance and anger; disrespect for the sports they are alleged to showcase and the athletes they are supposed to serve; and enough "alternative facts" (aka, lies) to make the current White House occupant blush with embarrassment.
Now, I am sure you are left with questions. As one who had the chance to observe GLISA and past event organizers through meetings, interviews, and correspondence â€" and who is in some respects at least partially responsible for the creation of all of this, as I was the one who cast the deciding vote in Chicago in 2003 that spelled the end of negotiations to host the 2006 Gay Games in Montreal â€" I shall attempt to answer some of them to the best of my ability.
1. Should the Federation of Gay Games and GLISA now do what some have called for repeatedly for over the years and merge their dueling quadrennial events into one event?
Hell, no! The FGG should disavow any talks of merger of events or organizations. It should do a better job of educating its constituents about its core mission (LGBT empowerment through sports participation, not conferences or parties), and the fundamental differences in its business model that GLISA has rejected consistently and repeatedly (official involvement of LGBT athletes through every step of event planning and organization, rather than merely charging a licensing fee and then hoping a host can figure everything else out on its own).
Those with long memories may recall that when Montreal walked out of negotiations in 2003, it complained that the FGG demanded too much accountability and oversight power â€" the very things that were sorely lacking with the Miami World Outgames.
2. Should athletes who spent thousands of dollars to get to Miami, and used up their vacation time to get to their events only to find them canceled as their planes were landing, follow through on threats to sue for breach of contract and calls for fraud investigations? Damn right! The first World Outgames lost millions of dollars and stiffed local businesses â€" that's the legacy of Outgames without oversight that Miami inherited. It's about time someone called them out on it.
3. Why were there not more warnings, information we could have used to guard ourselves from this massive letdown?
A few reasons. First, organizers were not transparent and candid in the information they provided. For instance, I had contacted them and my questions were met with assurances that proved empty, and eventually my calls were refused entirely, especially once I started honing in on financial issues. Second, the local mainstream media showed its disregard for LGBT issues by not asking probing questions and writing non-promotional pieces in the months leading up to the event. Finally, for the most part LGBT media showed their disregard and lack of respect for sports in general by writing similar puffery and focusing it on the social, cultural, and conference aspects rather than athletics. Ironically, the collective failure of the mainstream and queer media argues all the more why we need legitimate LGBT sports extravaganzas such as the Gay Games and Sin City Shootout.
4. Will this scandal hurt the 2018 Gay Games in Paris? Sure as sunshine. Most LGBT sports constituents have long viewed the Gay Games and World Outgames as two sausages coming out of essentially similar factories. They aren't aware of the safeguards and oversights built into the Gay Games, the interactions between the FGG and host cities, or the behind-the-scenes work performed by LGBT sports representatives to help stage the sports competitions and sports standards. That lack of awareness will undoubtedly lead to wariness and reluctance.
Back in March 2004, when I was one of the eager and enthusiastic athlete volunteers helping the FGG stage its quadrennial sports celebration, the FGG asked me, just months after meeting me, to fly to the Gay and Lesbian Sports Foundation convention in Boston to observe the Chicago and Montreal hosts and the representatives of the FGG and newly formed GLISA â€" then report back what I observed.
In my report, I said the thing that struck me most was the lack of sports organization experience among the Montreal and GLISA representatives, as well as a lack of interest in learning the issues involved. While Chicago and FGG reps stayed after formal meetings to answer club representatives' questions about their venues, event insurance, and mission issues, such as inclusion and acceptance of straight athletes, their GLISA and Montreal counterparts were off to the bar for cocktails.
I also noted that while Montreal organizers were obviously proud of their fundraising â€" they said they had already raised $3 million â€" they were equally adept at big spending, since it turned out they had already blown through that $3 million more than two years before the 2006 Montreal Outgames, without using so much as a dime on the actual sports event itself.
I told the FGG board that I thought that the Montreal Outgames would be called off months in advance â€" or if it went forward, it would be a financial disaster.
I didn't ever think I could feel so bad about being so right about something â€" until last week with Miami.
Now sports registrants are led with one overriding question: where did all of the money go? That, my friends, remains for government probes to uncover. Brace yourselves for the answers. Ugly is about to turn uglier.
Contact the author at email@example.com.