Jock Talk: Picking a host for Gay Games XI

  • by Roger Brigham
  • Wednesday October 25, 2017
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Every four years, Federation of Gay Games members vote for a city to host a Gay Games five years down the road. Each time, they must play the role of Goldilocks, trying to figure out which of three potential sites is not too much this, not too much that, but "just right."

Not too big, not too small. Not too ambitious, not too timid. Just culturally repressed enough to need change, just legally progressive enough to enable that change.

As the Gay Games look to broaden their global reach into untapped markets, they will have their greatest social value when they occur in places that are still struggling with issues of acceptance and inclusion. The host should be in a location where limited progress has been made in legislatures and courts of law, but issues are not yet settled in the court of public opinion, keeping the threat of discrimination very much alive.

Just ripe for change means just right for the games.

At the end of this month, FGG members will hear final presentations in Paris (host of Gay Games X in 2018) from three finalists bidding to host Gay Games XI in 2022 - Guadalajara, Mexico; Hong Kong; and Washington, D.C.

Beginning with Gay Games IV in 1994 in New York City, the Gay Games have been blessed to have cities lining up to host, creating a truly competitive bid process. That has allowed FGG voters to be choosy, able to pick a city not based solely on available venues, but also the bidding organizations' grasp of the Gay Games mission; their experience in staging major multi-sport events; their ability to provide a first-class, life-changing competitive experience for LGBT athletes regardless of skill level - and their ability to create long lasting societal change in attitudes.

Voters look for balance in the bids and the people behind the bids. Is a bidder's budget realistic and will it deliver an event that athletes and teams will be able to afford and want? Does a bidder understand that the participatory Gay Games does not have the same needs and mission as the elitist Olympics and will not draw the same level of spectator interest?

Does a bidder understand that sports are a serious matter in the Gay Games and not merely a marketing "hook" to lure LGBT tourists? Does it understand the importance of enabling underrepresented populations to be able to participate? Does a bidder understand the value of having an egalitarian diversity of sports challenges in order to meet the mission goals of participation and inclusion? Does the bidder realize that Gay Games athletes are looking for a chance to express themselves athletically rather than sit through lectures and conferences? Does a bidder embrace the insight and institutional knowledge the sports organizations in the FGG bring - or does it see that partnership as a hindrance and prefer to outsource sports decisions?

Most importantly: what desire drives a bidder: making money, or making change?

This is the second time Washington has bid for the event, and the FGG tends to look favorably on bidders who come back after missing out on their first attempt, as Paris did. But the Gay Games have been flirting with the idea of making a splash by going into other regions for some time, which could boost the chances of either Guadalajara or Hong Kong.

FGG voters have spent the past year grilling the bidders with repeated rounds of questions on the nuts and bolts of their bids.

Can you hold all soccer matches in a single venue? What makes you think you can draw enough participants to hold rugby when no other host has been able to since the inception of the Bingham Cup? Will participants have free transit passes and how much will accommodations cost? What are your local laws concerning same-sex spouses visiting spouses in hospitals and what are your transgender bathroom regulations?

The contenders

None of the bids are perfect, but each offers unique opportunities.

When the bidding first started and included cities such as San Francisco, Dallas, and Denver, I thought Washington had the inside edge. It offered an abundance of local LGBT sports organizations; its experience with the failed previous bid for Gay Games IX, which eventually went to Cleveland, had helped it hone is bid to better meet FGG expectations and concerns; and showcasing LGBT athletes in an enormous participatory event in front of hundreds of national politicians and government bureaucrats is a great way to spread the word across a country.

But in the months since the first bid submissions a year ago, anti-Americanism has been inflamed by reactions to the Trump presidency, costing the city much of its tourism luster. The D.C. bid presents a portrait of an exceedingly supportive and progressive environment - an environment that may be in less immediate need of the Gay Games' ability to change attitudes than the other bidders. And by 2022, the event will already have been held in the United States and Canada six times but just once in Australia, three times in Europe - and never in Africa, Latin America, or Asia. Those are areas the FGG knows it must eventually enter if it is to maximize its global impact.

I have been a voting delegate in previous years for either Wrestlers WithOut Borders or Team San Francisco. This will be the first cycle since the 2002 Sydney Gay Games in which I have no vote. But I have read the bids and the questions and answers and discussed the bids with other Gay Games stakeholders.

My gut tells me that holding the Gay Games in Guadalajara offers the best chance of meeting athletes' expectations and creating long term social impact. Here's why:

In the first 10 Gay Games, the only places the event has been held outside of Europe have been in former British colonies: Canada, Australia, and the United States. Selecting Hong Kong or Washington would continue that Anglo bias.

Washington has access to the most local LGBT sports clubs of any of the bidders. There are few such clubs in Asia for Hong Kong to draw upon. But there is a growing and enthusiastic number of LGBT sports organizations scattered across Latin America, some inspired by their organizers' previous trips to Gay Games on scholarships, capable not only of helping provide support but penetrating the FGG reach throughout Central and South America. In other words, the nascent LGBT sports infrastructure in Latin America is better equipped to sustain growth after the 2022 Gay Games than Hong Kong - and has a greater need for stimulus than Washington.

The Gay Games are one of the largest and most complex sports events in the world, requiring massive efforts to schedule multiple venues; accommodate dozens of different disciplines; meet the needs of thousands of athletes of all ages and levels of ability and varying disability; coordinate and train thousands of volunteers; and raise enough money to hire staff and keep athlete costs down. Neither Washington nor Hong Kong has that kind of experience; Guadalajara handled the task masterfully when it hosted the largest multi-sport event of 2011, the Pan American Games, as well as the Parapan America Games.

Throughout Latin America, the struggle for LGBT rights is being fought on common cultural, religious, and political fronts. Legal protections have become stronger, but violent resistance to change and acceptance remains a threat. The visibility of the Gay Games could provide needed interaction and regional dialogue to help change attitudes throughout the region. In contrast, the unique political relationships Hong Kong has with China and the District of Columbia has with the United States have an isolating effect that may geographically restrict much of their impact.

Voters will have to make up their minds after they have had a chance to meet and hear the bidders and look them in the eye. They'll have to figure out with whom they wish to spend the next five years in working partnership - and who is best equipped and best motivated to fulfill the mission.

I won't be there for that and I won't vote. But on the outside looking in, I'd say Guadalajara is just right.

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