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Jock Talk: Gay Games are back

by Roger Brigham

Paris 2018 Co-President Manuel Picaud. Photo: Courtesy Team SF
Paris 2018 Co-President Manuel Picaud. Photo: Courtesy Team SF  

Forget the frustrating fabrications of the late, never great World Outgames. Get over the legal slap fest to settle ownership of the Sin City Classic. Stop worrying about the declining registration numbers of the past two Gay Games that had many supporters thinking inclusive LGBT sports have had their heyday and are in recession.

Paris 2018 appears poised to disprove all the nattering "nay-bobs" with participation levels reminiscent of the Gay Games' glory days.

Organizers told the Bay Area Reporter this week that with less than four months to go before the August 4-12 Gay Games X and with three months of registration left, almost 8,000 people have already paid and signed up.

"We are confident in gathering the most inclusive event of the century," Manuel Picaud, co-president of Paris 2018, said. "Our figures are already in a better trend than any previous Gay Games since 2002."

That's 2002 as in Gay Games VI in Sydney, which drew about 12,000 athletes and artists. That was the third consecutive quadrennial Gay Games that drew more than 10,000 participants. Chicago virtually matched that in 2006, but since then in consecutive cycles Gay Games drew just under 10,000 in 2010, then less than 7,000 in 2014.

Some blamed the choice of cities: Cologne, Germany and Cleveland are smaller cities lacking the tourist buzz of previous hosts. Some blamed the global recession; others competition with the World Outgames and "tournament saturation" in the LGBT sports calendar. Still others blamed the success of the Gay Games in its efforts to make sports more inclusive and supportive, thereby reducing the need for an LGBT-focused sports event.

All can do some serious shut-up now. Paris appears to be a lock for double-digit thousands, with a probable registration total in the 12,000-15,000 range.

Some sports are already at capacity while others, such as cycling and road running, are almost full. Even the minority of sports that would appear to be doomed to cancellation because of low registration numbers remain viable candidates, Paris 2018 organizers said.

Here are the number of registrants Paris 2018 is reporting for each sport, followed by the maximum capacity of each sport: diving, 26 registrants out of a maximum of 100 participants; open water swim, 178 out of 400; swimming, 895 of 1,200; synchronized swimming, 66 of 195; track and field, 460 of 750; badminton, 356 of 600; basketball, 213 of 500; beach volleyball, 50 of 140; bowling, 179 of 400; mountain biking, 47 of 60; cycling road races, 125 of 150; dance sport, 264 of 400; fencing, 23 of 100; field hockey, 162 of 360; figure skating, 71 of 220; team handball, 61 of 200; martial arts, 200 of 300; boxing, 61 of 100; petanque, 118 of 180; rowing, 280 of 300; sailing, 67 of 100; softball, 97 of 300; roller skating, 29 of 150; squash, 91 of 112; table tennis, 109 of 200; triathlon, 267 of 500; volleyball, 488 of 850; and in wrestling and grappling, 78 of 150.

Tennis (507 participants) and golf (184) have already sold out.

In road races, organizers budgeted for 750 in the marathon and already have 725 runners. They planned for 1,000 runners in the 5- and 10-kilometer runs and are just three short of that. Organizers said they might expand the limits on all three runs to accommodate more demand.

Soccer is divided into 11- and seven-player teams in two tournaments, with a maximum of 400 players in each tournament. They already have 369 for the 11s and 137 for the sevens.
The maximum of water polo teams (16 competition, 20 leisure) have been registered since 2017 but 291 of the 720 maximum slots remain open. Forty-five of 50 spots in an urban dance workshop have been taken, but organizers say they hope to expand as needed.

The vast majority of spots in the conferences (100 per day for three days) remain open. Cheerleading has 114 of its 150 spots filled. Band is wide open with 45 signed up (200 maximum), orchestra has 29 of its 200 spots filled, and choir has 162 of its 250 spots open.

But it's hard to look at the registrations in three sports - ice hockey, roller derby, and rugby - and not think they face a stiff challenge in remaining on the schedule.

Of the three, ice hockey appears to be in the best shape. Picaud said 10 teams have registered, but just 72 players have registered. "Many people in team sports register late after their captains," Picaud said.

Roller derby? Organizers planned on 300 slots for that sport but just two (yes, that's two) have registered.

"Roller derby is a try to reach out to young women," Picaud said. "If the European teams decide to come, we will have a great show. We are still expecting them."

Lastly, there's rugby. With the advent of the Bingham Cup after 9/11, it is difficult for rugby teams to afford both the Bingham Cup championship and the Gay Games in the same year. No host has been successful with rugby since Sydney 2002. Paris is trying to organize a tournament for seven-player squads instead of the standard 15, but has only 10 out of a maximum 250 signed up. That's not even enough for a two-team tournament.

"Rugby is a real challenge for Gay Games with another competition of rugby 15s in Europe some weeks before our event," Picaud said. "Nevertheless, it is a sport supported by the French federation of rugby who wants to foster this game."

Drop the cultural, cheerleading, and conference events, add up all of the sports registrations, and you've got 7,617 athletes. Add in chorus, orchestra, band cheerleading, and conferences and you're at 7,955 participants.

With four months to go.

Looks like they're back.

Outgames investigation faces delay
Florida's criminal investigation into the management and cancellation of the 2017 Miami World Outgames remains open but has been temporarily derailed because of the fatal collapse last month of a Florida International University pedestrian bridge.

"The prosecutor handling the Outgames is totally immersed in the bridge case," state attorney spokesman Ed Griffith told the Bay Area Reporter. "He expects to finalize the case in about 60 days."

Six people were killed when the $14.2 million bridge, which was scheduled to open at the beginning of 2019, collapsed on the highway. In addition to the state criminal investigation of the collapse, the National Transportation Safety Board is also investigating its cause.

Organizers of the World Outgames raised more than $2 million but announced the cancellation of the event just hours before its scheduled opening Memorial Day weekend. Traveling athletes were stuck with plane tickets, hotel reservations, and other nonrefundable travel costs. An audit revealed incorrect and incomplete bookkeeping, failure to obtain and pay for permits and venue fees, and fundraising goals that were consistently missed. An investigation by Miami Beach police resulted in no charges based on misappropriation of funds, but the state investigators are continuing to interview witnesses; and a $5 million civil class action was filed in late February (See March 1 JockTalk).

Edward O'Sheehan, an attorney for Outgames treasurer Keith Hart, who is one of the defendants in the class action suit, has asked the federal district court to extend his deadline to respond to April 23.

Canadian hockey tragedy
Fifteen people were killed and another 14 injured in Saskatchewan, Canada, last Friday when a semi-trailer truck slammed into a bus carrying a junior hockey team from Humbolt. The tragedy, whose fatalities included two of the coaches, the radio announcer, the statistician, the bus driver, and 10 players, sent shock waves through Canada and drew messages of sympathy from President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. But one of the players killed was able to provide needed hope to some and a reminder to others to take action.

Humbolt Broncos defenseman Logan Boulet was taken off life support the day after the crash. He reportedly had signed an organ donor card just weeks before when he turned 21. Doctors were able to successfully transplant six of his vital organs in half a dozen patients.

That hit home for me. When I was put on a waiting list for a kidney, I was told it would be about five years before I would be given a matching kidney.

That was in 2010.
Medical science can do miracles with transplants for patients - but there is a critical shortage of all kinds of vital organs. To sign up online as an organ donor, visit http://www.organdonor.gov. As a final reminder, April is (you guessed it) Donate Life Month.

Contact the columnist at jocktalkroger@yahoo.com.

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