Jock Talk: Death of the Outgames, 2006-2017

  • by Roger Brigham
  • Wednesday October 18, 2017
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When the Miami World Outgames went belly up at the end of May, angry LGBT sports activists and athletes said they wished the licensing body would go out of business. Conversely, when the Sin City Shootout wound up in a court battle over ownership of the event, many of those same activists said they wished the dispute could be resolved amicably and quickly. There is now a good chance that both wishes can come true.

A federal district court this month ordered the Greater Los Angeles Softball Association to settle its ownership dispute with Sin City Shootout director Eric Ryan before a private mediator. Originally, the suit was scheduled to be heard next spring - well after the January sports festival is set to be held - but this month the judge told the litigants that he wants their dispute settled in mediation - in December, if not sooner.

Both parties will spend the next few weeks gathering documents and affidavits and mustering their legal arguments. You know: lawyer speak. The overall reality for athletes the past decade as the Shootout blossomed into the gigantic multi-sport festival so many have loved and come to expect is that GLASA volunteers pretty much tended to softball matters, volunteers from each of the other smaller sports tended to their sports matters, Ryan took care of lining up hotels and venues and making sure the site was up - and everyone hooked up at the multiple parties after the daily sports events were over.

Simple and straightforward. Let us pray sanity prevails and the festival returns with those same parties in the same places in February. Change the name - the word "Shootout" when mentioned with Las Vegas has an entirely different meaning now than it did just last month - but keep the personnel and mechanisms in place.

But back to the Outgames. While LGBT sports enthusiasts wait to see what criminal or civil charges the organizers of this year's canceled event may face, it appears the licensing body has shut its virtual doors and died after a decade of operations.

The Florida state attorney's office confirmed to the Bay Area Reporter this week that more than four months after the last-minute cancellation of the 2017 Miami World Outgames, which cost hundreds of athletes from around the globe their vacation time and travel expenses, it still has not concluded its criminal investigation into how the organizers handled incoming funds.

"I have been told by the prosecutor handling the matter that we are still interviewing witnesses," Ed Griffith, spokesman for the state prosecutor, told the B.A.R. Monday.

Meanwhile, the website of the Gay and Lesbian International Sport Association, the decade-old organization that licensed the Miami event with an assurance that organizers could expect 15,000 registrants, has been taken offline. Go to these days and you'll find the URL "parked" on with an invitation to buy.

Attempts to contact current GLISA board members have been unsuccessful. Immediately after the Miami cancellation, the current board had said it regretted the situation and planned to learn from its mistakes while moving forward. But almost simultaneous with that pledge, past GLISA co-presidents called for the board to give it up, writing in an open letter, "We urge that the board of directors of GLISA International halt all current and future activities. It is time for GLISA to cease to exist."

The Miami implosion was just the biggest in a string of recent GLISA-related disasters. Two 2016 continental Outgames were canceled by presumptive hosts St. Louis and Auckland - and Winnipeg pulled out as host of a future North American Outgames, saying that after the Miami collapse, the brand name had become "toxic."

The GLISA continental websites for the North American and Asia Pacific Outgames associations are nearly as dead as the global GLISA site. The North American site appears not to have been updated since 2011. The Asia Pacific site is still using Miami 2017 as its main promotion. Neither site mentions plans for the future.

And so GLISA shuffles off this coil of relevance. It was founded by organizers of the original 2006 Montreal Outgames (which lost around $5 million) to grant licenses for future Outgames. Montreal had been chosen to host the Gay Games for 2006 but walked away from years of negotiations with the Federation of Gay Games in late 2003 to create its own rival event.

Serious talks to join the Gay Games and the World Outgames into a single global event started around 2007 and were alive as recently as March 2016, when the FGG ended the negotiations, calling a joint venture "high risk." (See March 3, 2016 B.A.R. blog post, "FGG breaks off talks with GLISA over single LGBT sports event.") Consistently through talks GLISA insisted on sharing revenues equally but declined to have an external professional assessment made of the worth of each brand, pushed to allow proxy voting rather than the in-person meeting the FGG used, and demanded conferences make up an equal share of the budget with sports.

In the GLISA Outgames model, there was almost no interaction or oversight of host organizers, no standing sports committees and officers to provide expertise and advice. This left host cities to make unilateral decisions on tournaments, did not draw enough interest from potential hosts to create a truly competitive bid process, and drew fewer and fewer sports participants in each quadrennial iteration.

The events also increasingly shifted focus toward conferences and paid speakers and away from tournaments and recreational athletes. The breaking point came in Miami, when the opening and closing ceremonies as well as almost all of the sports events were shut down, but the sparsely attended conferences, cultural events, and parties proceeded.

It was in that last naked moment in Miami that frustrated athletes finally acknowledged that the GLISA Emperor may look fabulous, but he had no track cleats, wrestling singlets, or basketball shorts.

The legacy of the World Outgames has been one of division, distrust, and disillusion. Many of those left in the lurch on the beaches of Miami say they have lost faith in LGBT organizers, never want another Outgames, and do not know if they will ever compete in a large-scale LGBT sports event again.

Which, of course, is the wrong conclusion.

The Outgames, from Day 1, were never about the sports. Not a second. They were organized largely by non-athletes and catered to non-athletes. This was apparent in each iteration with the focus of their communications and marketing efforts on parties, ceremonies, and conferences. Parties, ceremonies and conferences. Focused on what tourists will be able to hear, drink, and see - not on what athletes of all skill levels and all backgrounds will be able to achieve. Be able to do. Be able to tackle.

The Gay Games, which more than a decade ago turned the corner on getting hosts to manage budgets, have been focused on the sports experience for LGBT athletes throughout its 35-year history. Ditto the Sin City Shootout throughout its 11-year history.

Don't let the failed Outgames experiment bench you on the sidelines.

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