Jock Talk: Selection race is on for Gay Games 2026

  • by Roger Brigham, BAR Contributor
  • Monday November 9, 2020
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Gay Games volunteers celebrate at the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Gay Games in Cologne, Germany. Photo: Benjamin Hahn
Gay Games volunteers celebrate at the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Gay Games in Cologne, Germany. Photo: Benjamin Hahn

Pandemic and political issues may cause concerns about how and if the 2022 Gay Games in Hong Kong can succeed, or even go forward, but an abundance of bids for the 2026 Gay Games indicate the overall movement remains alive and relevant.

Bids from eight different cities on four continents — Auckland, New Zealand; Brisbane, Australia; Guadalajara Mexico; Munich, Germany; San Diego, California; Taipei City, Taiwan; Toronto, Canada; and Valencia, Spain — were submitted to the Federation of Gay Games at the end of October, each projecting 10,000 or more athletes.

The FGG board will narrow the field to three finalists later this year. Afterward a site inspection team will visit those cities next year, and the FGG assembly will select the host at its 2021 annual meeting in Hong Kong.

All of the bids propose a few days of human rights conferences before the opening ceremonies. Each bid emphasizes its location's warm, sunny weather; top-notch sports venues; affordable lodgings; and convenient travel from international locations.

FGG's expressed desire to expand from its base from the United States-Europe-Australia market was one of the factors in its decision to hold Gay Games XI in Hong Kong. There is virtually no LGBTQ-sports infrastructure in Asia, so Hong Kong supporters said they hoped holding the event there would help raise awareness of sports in queer Asian communities and lead to the organization of more local clubs.

The selection of Hong Kong was an overture specifically for Asian outreach, but it also meant that in the eight times the Gay Games have not been held in Europe, they have been held in former British colonies: the United States (six times), Australia, and Hong Kong. Breaking out of that mold may be a consideration for the FGG in its next selection.

Guadalajara was a runner-up for the 2022 Gay Games when it was bidding against Washington, D.C., and Hong Kong. To raise its awareness within the FGG ranks and contribute to the movement, the city hosted the FGG's annual assembly in 2019. Assembly members were treated with great courtesy by the local citizenry, they had a chance to look the city over for themselves, and they were able to participate in a major outreach initiative targeting Latin America.

That could give the Mexican city an edge in this bidding cycle. There is more LGBTQ sports infrastructure in Latin America for Gay Games organizers to call upon than there is in Asia; it would be the first non-European Gay Games not to be held in the former British Empire; and it would be the first Gay Games to be held in a Spanish-speaking country.

Bids vary widely

The bids vary widely in their financial ambitions and sports offerings. Gone are the absurd projections of 15,000 registrants that have never been achieved. In most cases, the ceremony costs have been reduced from the extravaganzas that put several past hosts in the hole.

The two most widely divergent bids in their financial projections are the North American bids, Toronto and San Diego. Toronto's bid, based on 12,000 participants, calls for a $19.3 million budget — including $13 million in government support — with a surplus of $4 million. It would spend $1.6 million on opening and closing ceremonies. In contrast, San Diego's budget projection of $7.8 million is based on 14,000 athletes, includes no government funding, would spend $810,000 on opening and closing, and would generate a surplus of $1.2 million.

In some cases, Gay Games sports that offer athletic cardiovascular challenges and/or strength training, such as bodybuilding, martial arts, or powerlifting, have been dropped; less physically challenging games such as esports, darts, chess, bridge, and billiards have become more prevalent.

The absence of bodybuilding, martial arts, and powerlifting in some bids is particularly baffling as they do not have difficult or expensive venue requirements; they have long Gay Games traditions; and they are very active member organizations in the FGG. Martial arts is coming off of what sport organizers said was the best organized Gay Games tournament to date, and its rules are specifically adapted for the Gay Games mission of inclusion. Powerlifting and bodybuilding in general have had struggles with mainstream sanctioning bodies over acceptance of transgender inclusion and necessary medical treatments, but in both cases international LGBTQ+ sports federations have stepped up to enable inclusion their mainstream counterparts can't. The Gay Games are the biggest showcase available for those athletes.

Key aspects of the bids

Here are notes on some key aspects of the bids, in chronological order of their proposed opening ceremonies. All dates are in 2026.

Auckland, April 11-18. Bidders project 11,500 athletes. Bid offers nine paralympic sports. Not all base registrations include free transportation. Offerings include mountain and road cycling, lawn bowling, rugby 7s and touch, netball, and orienteering. Rowing and track cycling are not offered. Budget of $11.7 million with $1 million surplus. Safety and security is set at $480,000. Ceremonies and festivities budgeted at $1.4 million, supported by $165,000 for opening and closing ceremony ticket sales. Fundraising would account for $7.4 million of the budget. It would be the first Gay Games to be held in New Zealand and the second time in the region, following Sydney (2002).

Valencia, May 30-June 7. Bidders project 12,000 athletes. A highlight of inclusivity is the offering of Colpbol, a local gender-integrated team sport designed to accommodate different physical abilities. Other sports offerings include road cycling, esports, fencing, field hockey, rugby union, kayak-polo, and Quidditch. Squash, handball, racquetball, and mountain cycling are not offered. Budget is $9.3 million with surplus of $900,000-plus. Fundraising to hit $4.6 million. Safety and security plan would require $400,000. Ceremonies and festivities budgeted at $2.2 million, with total ticket sales at $289,000. It would be the first time the games were held in Spain and the fourth time in Europe (Amsterdam, 1998; Cologne, 2010; Paris, 2018).

Taipei City, June 19-27. The Gay Games have always been more of a participatory event than a spectator event, but Taiwanese bidders project 15,000 spectators to come along with 12,000 participants. Sports offerings include road cycling, dodgeball, table tennis, billiards, beach volleyball, dragon boat racing, field hockey, esports, trail running, and street dance. No bodybuilding or mountain cycling. Projected $14.9 million budget would generate $1.4 million surplus. Ceremonies would cost $2.1 million and safety and security would require $243,000. Ticket sales estimated at $309,604. Fundraising would account for $9.3 million. It is not clear how things would play out politically if the Gay Games went in one cycle from being held on an island where the Chinese government is tightening its grip to an island whose independence China does not acknowledge and works to undo.

Toronto, July 11-18. The Toronto bid calls for one extra day, ending on a Sunday. Toronto's athletic offerings would include dodgeball, martial arts, dragon boat racing, rugby 7s, esports, figure skating, ice hockey, physique, and table tennis. It does not include powerlifting or any cycling. Toronto bidders plan to spend $475,000 on security and safety. It would the second Gay Games to be held in Canada (Vancouver, 1990) and the third time Canada was chosen (Montreal, 2006, withdrew).

Munich, August 8-15. The Munich bid projects 10,000 athletes, with almost 9,000 of them coming from Europe and North America. Many events would be held in facilities built for the 1972 Summer Olympics. Sports offerings would include bridge, chess, esports, fencing, field hockey, team handball, martial arts, bodybuilding, billiards, powerlifting, rowing, cycling road races, climbing, and shooting. Track and mountain cycling as well as figure skating and ice skating would not be offered. The proposed $9.9 million budget includes $1.2 million in fundraising/sponsorship and $5 million in government funding. Ceremonies and festivities would cost $1.1 million. Three million would go to safety and security. It would be the second time the Gay Games were held in Germany (Cologne, 2010) fourth time in Europe (with Amsterdam, 1998, and Paris, 2018).

Guadalajara, August. Incorrect dates are listed in the bid book and correct dates could not be verified by the FGG at press time. A chart of the proposal event schedule indicates an event starting with opening ceremonies on a Saturday and ending a week later on Sunday. The starting Saturday is listed as being August 4, but that is a Tuesday, so it is likely the starting date is actually August 1 or August 8. Bidders project 10,000 athletes and 12,000 total applicants; a $5.6 million budget; and a $583,000 surplus. Safety and security will cost $181,000. Proposed sports offerings include cycling road and mountain races, field hockey flag football, team handball, martial arts, bodybuilding, powerlifting, inline speed skating, racquetball, rowing, squash, fencing, esports, trail running, field hockey and rugby union. This would be the first time the Gay Games were in Latin America.

San Diego, September 5-12. The bid from Southern California is the most optimistic in terms of number of athletes. The total from their projections in each sport is more than 14,000. The bid offers dodgeball, flag football, kickball, rugby 7s, billiards, road cycling, figure skating, ice hockey, dragon boat racing, and surfing. It does not offer martial arts or racquetball, squash or handball. Neither powerlifting nor bodybuilding (both represented by FGG member organizations) are offered on their own. Instead, a commercial hybrid sport, CrossFit, is in the program. (That could be the most interesting FGG internal sports discussion since Cleveland introduced rodeo.) The budget is set at $7.8 million, with $800,000 going to opening and closing ceremonies. There is no line item for safety and security. The budget surplus is estimated at $1.2 million. This would be the sixth times the Gay Games would be held in the United States (San Francisco, 1982 and 1986, before competitive bidding began; New York City, 1994; Chicago, 2006; Cleveland, 2014.

Brisbane, October 10-17. The bid projects 10,000 participants, an $11.7 million budget, and a surplus of $1.2 million. Safety and security is set at $1.7 million, $1.2 million would be spent on opening and closing ceremonies, and those ceremonies are projected to bring in $600,000. Brisbane has far more spectator ticket sales projected than any other bid. Exhibitions of wheelchair basketball, Australian rules football, and Indigenous games would be offered. Other sports options include fencing, field hockey, team handball, rugby 7s and touch, p�tanque, rowing, squash, and martial arts. No powerlifting or bodybuilding are offered. This would be the second time the Gay Games were held in Australia (Sydney, 2002).

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