Jock Talk: Adios to World Outgames sports

  • by Roger Brigham
  • Wednesday March 29, 2017
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If you were following sports news closely the past week, you no doubt caught the death notices of two institutions.

The first, of course, was that of the Oakland Raiders. As we age, we learn there are very few things in life we can count on to last forever: true love, death, "The Simpsons," and Oakland's municipal debt used to lure the Raiders to return to their Oakland roots two decades ago.

This week, NFL owners overwhelmingly voted to kick the shit out of the hearts of the most loyal fans in the country and approve a largely government financed plan for the Raiders to relocate to Las Vegas, making it the first team in any major league pro sports to become established in the nation's gambling capital. That should at last put a wooden stake through the heart of the vampiric and mythic Raiders Nation once and for all time – or at least until the Nevada venture goes belly up and the franchise comes crawling back, demanding more cash to return to the scene of the team's former glory.

Let's hope that at that time our local politicians will have learned to say no.

The other obituary was that of the World Outgames' claims to be a major inclusive LGBT-centric global sports event. The event may survive beyond the next scheduled edition in Miami less than two months from now as a legitimate, even important, human rights conference – I won't attempt to address that issue – but its efforts to bill itself as a major sports event may now officially be laid to rest.

Let's just hope the Gay and Lesbian International Sport Association recognizes that reality and stops trying to lure LGBT athletes with its perennial sucker bets.

As recently as last September (See September 29 JockTalk), Miami World Outgames 2017 organizers, relying heavily on unpublished and unverified past registration numbers supplied by GLISA, which sells the licensing rights for the event, were unable to provide up-to-date registration numbers for the May 26-June 4 event but were still projecting abut 10,000 attendees, after initialing projecting 15,000 – a number never achieved by any LGBT global sports event.

Last week, reported that Miami has just 2,000 registrants with two months to go. A plurality of the sports registrants are in two big-number sports that will hold their international championships in Miami independently of what happens with other events: the International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics' diving, swimming, water polo, and synchronized swimming championships; and the International Gay and Lesbian Football Association's world championship.

Miami organizers' ability to pull in another few thousand athlete registrants in two months to make the remaining 30-plus sports disciplines worthy of competition is no longer an improbability; it is now an impossibility. Miami spokesman Michael Goodman told Outsports, "A handful of sports, which have low registrations, like netball, are being removed to ensure a healthy competition," and those cuts will be made by April Fools' Day.

None of this should come as a surprise to any serious LGBT sports person, but rather as an inevitability. I have been criticized by past WOG organizers for judging their events as sports events rather than as human rights events. I make no apologies for anything I have ever written about the event. I'm paid to write about sports events. This is a sports column. An event such as the World Outgames gets judged here as a sports event when and if it sells itself as a sports event. Period.

Reality is, the World Outgames, born more than a decade ago as a spiteful attempt to co-opt the Gay Games' mission to advance LGBT human rights through a global, inclusive multi-sports festival, have failed to deliver on the sports experience over and over again.

The 2006 Montreal Outgames, announced in 2003 after the chosen hosts for the 2006 Gay Games walked out of negotiations and declared they would run their own competing event their own way and make millions in doing so, instead lost millions of dollars and were lying to government agencies, creditors, and would-be participants about budget and registration numbers right up to the opening ceremonies. Chicago, chosen to host Gay Games VII after Montreal bolted, ended up drawing roughly 12,000 registrants and finished in the black.

WOG 2, held in Copenhagen in 2009, drew fewer athletes than projected, leading Outsports to refer to its collapsed competition brackets as a "clusterfuck" and causing Team Berlin to ask rhetorically, "Was anyone hot for Copenhagen?"

WOG 3, in Antwerp in 2013, drew even fewer athletes than Copenhagen; and no complete breakdown of budget figures or attendance numbers for it have ever been published. In some sports, tournaments were canceled and turned into overpriced workshops.

Marketing and world peace are wonderful, but reliable delivery of fulfilling sports experiences are what athletes are looking for and counting on when they pony up registration fees. LGBT sports federations want to be able to guarantee quality sports competitions from event hosts before they are willing to invest their resources and brand names to big expensive events focused more on parties, conferences, and Pride events than advancing human rights through the unique experience of high quality, highly competitive but inclusive and welcoming sports tournaments.

Club-hosted tournaments have emerged in numerous sports as great bargain basement options. Sin City Shootout has organically grown into the largest and least expensive multi sports event LGBT athletes from across the globe can count on. And the venerable Gay Games, headed to Paris in 2018, offer the most consistent, amazing, life-changing, bring-us-together-through-sports our community has ever known.

World Outgames? Dead as a sports event.