Jock Talk: Exciting, pivotal times for Gay Games

  • by Roger Brigham
  • Wednesday November 8, 2017
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For the past 14 years, Gay Games organizers and activists have been distracted by a rival event founded to co-opt their brand and possibly kill it. Now that that appears to be over (see October 19 JockTalk, "Death of the Outgames, 2006-2017"), the Gay Games have an opportunity to emerge stronger than ever: the truly global engine of change that late founder Tom Waddell envisioned 40 years previously.

A late challenge facing next year's Gay Games in Paris is the confusion, anger, and disillusionment among some athletes created by problems with two non-Gay Games events: the last-minute cancellation this year of the rival World Outgames in Miami due to financial mismanagement and botched preparations; and the ongoing court battle over ownership rights in the Sin City Shootout in Las Vegas. Add on the canceled continental Outgames in Asia Pacific and St. Louis, as well as a slipshod organization of the EuroGames in Stockholm, and you have one jaded group of athletes to deal with.

But none of those events had the unique mission focus, or the synergistic relationship, between a highly motivated host organization and a collegial working relationship with an experienced licensing body, that the Gay Games have. Paris has experience holding an annual multi-sport festival of its own, has solid government support, and says it is meeting its registration goals. Hong Kong, which was selected for the next Gay Games, doesn't have that kind of LGBT sports background and does not have all of the legal protections and rights previous hosts have had - but it has the potential to take the Gay Games message into a region to which it has never ventured.

The FGG and Hong Kong 2022 signed a preliminary agreement October 30 - two days before Waddell's birthday - and talks began Monday, November 6. If the agreement is not reached by the end of January, the FGG is set to begin talks with whoever came in second in the voting: Guadalajara, Mexico; or Washington, D.C.

FGG said it does not release vote totals for a year. "We will not announce the second place city until then unless negotiations fail with Hong Kong," a spokesman wrote in an email.

In the FGG's talks with Hong Kong, clarification will need to be made on what the Gay Games will be called in the presumptive host's marketing materials. The FGG, headquartered in San Francisco, is required by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling not to market itself in any way as an Olympics, and the name Gay Games is required by the federation's own bylaws. Suggestions in recent years to change the name have been fiercely opposed by Gay Games stakeholders.

But how do you translate a name invented four decades ago in the heyday of queer politics in California that was meant as a bugle call for people considered society's sexual outlaws and outcasts to come and express themselves through sports and arts, into modern Cantonese? And since so few in Asia have ever heard of the event, how do you find the words to describe the inclusive multi-sport competition without the forbidden and misleading reference to the elitist Olympics?

As word of the selection spread last week, multiple media reports throughout Asia referred to or explained the Gay Games with variations of "Happy Games based (or modeled) after the Olympic Games."

Which they ain't. They're actually much better than that. Let the lawyers and linguists work it out.

One of the articles on a Hong Kong website ( did a remarkable job of trying to explain what the term "gay" means beyond "happy," what the games are, and what their goal is, although it used repeated references to the Olympics. It explained that the event is open to people regardless of orientation and how it was founded. One description though may alarm many Gay Games stakeholders, as it would appear to be lifted from a World Outgames playbook with its description of conferences as one of "three main elements," along with sports and cultural events. Almost all previous hosts have held at least small conferences to help provide cover for registrants from severely repressed areas to attend when applying for visas, but since 2003 the FGG has been operating with a direction that sports are supposed to be the overwhelming focus and conferences and parties are not to be major components, based on surveys of past participants.

After the first three Gay Games were started in 1982-90 and held in San Francisco (twice) and Vancouver, FGG assumed the task of selecting and overseeing the quadrennial event. The next four LGBT cultural and multi-sport festivals were held in huge metropolitan cities that had large LGBT populations and strong local sports organizations: New York City, Amsterdam, Sydney, and Chicago. Each drew around 10,000-12,000 athletes and artists. The first three also lost huge amounts of money with much of the expenditures going to lavish opening and closing ceremonies.

Chicago was the first to operate under tighter fiscal requirements from the FGG, signaling a communal desire for the event to concentrate more on sports (the true focus of founder Waddell's vision and the element that changes the life of its participants the most), and scale back on ceremonies and parties.

Chicago was also the first Gay Games to have to deal with a rival event - the 2006 World Outgames, staged by a Montreal host that had been originally chosen to hold the Gay Games but bolted from talks in 2003 to escape the FGG umbrella.

Chicago finished in the black. Montreal, with a full slate of conference and more fabulous ceremonies and parties, lost around $5 million, drew fewer athletes than it projected, and subsequent World Outgames continued to draw fewer and fewer registrants.

The past two Gay Games were awarded to very hospitable cities with first class venues - Cologne, Germany and Cleveland - that were smaller, not as widely known, and drew under 10,000 each. The games were a success for the athletes and artists who participated - but some within FGG circles have second-guessed going into smaller cities.

Which brings us to Paris and Hong Kong. Paris has strong government support and great relationships with plenty of local LGBT sports clubs and tournament organizers. What scale event they will end up producing may be up for debate, but expected success there should do much to allay the nerves jittered by the failed Outgames.

And then the new venture into Asia. The bid is incredibly well financed and the potential to reach athletes who otherwise would not make it is great - but there is little local experience in the hosting of major LGBT sports events, which are notably different than mainstream sports events. A solid working relationship with the member sports organizations in the FGG will be critical.

But then, that's how trails are blazed.

In elections conducted at the FGG's general assembly, Joanie Evans of Great Britain was re-elected as female co-president. Other officers elected to the board are Ben Keller, vice president operations; Bill McManus, vice president member services; Sophia Rodriguez, diversity officer; Doug Litwin, marketing; Gene Dermody, membership; Eddie Young, ceremonies; Jan Schneider, sports; Leviathen Hendricks, international development; David Killian, site selection; Daniel Holland, development; Julie Williams, human resources; and Jeff Sousa and Viv Woodcock-Downey, officers-at-large.