The politics of gay sport

The next major tournament in the world of international gay sport will be the Out Games that will be held in Miami Beach at the end of May 2017.

The Out Games may look and sound a lot like the Gay Games, but it’s not. It’s something different.

The Out Games are run by an organisation called the Gay and Lesbian International Sport Association (GLISA); while the Gay Games are run by an organisation called the Federation of Gay Games (FGG).

For anyone not connected with the world of gay sporting clubs, the existence of two separate international gay sport tournaments won’t seem like a big deal. It doesn’t even mean that much to most LGBTI athletes and sporting participants — in practical terms it’s good to have a wide range of LGBTI-inclusive sporting events around the world available to take part in.

But there is an underlying question about the sustainability of major international sporting events such as the Gay Games and the World Out Games.

To put this discussion into context, we’re going to need to re-cap on the history of the Gay Games:

  • The first major international multi-sport event for LGBTI athletes was the Gay Olympics — the brainchild of Tom Waddell — held in San Francisco in 1982. Following legal action by the International Olympic Committee, subsequent events were known as the Gay Games.
  • The Gay Games were next held in 1986, again in San Francisco.
  • 1990: The Gay Games were held in Vancouver.
  • 1994: The Gay Games were held in New York.
  • 1998: The Gay Games were held in Amsterdam.
  • 2002: The Gay Games were held in Sydney.
  • 2006: The Gay Games were held in Chicago.
  • 2010: The Gay Games were held in Cologne.
  • 2014: The Gay Games were held in Cleveland.
  • 2018: The Gay Games will be held in Paris.
  • The FGG is pushing on, announcing that it has begun the process to select a host for the Gay Games in 2022 (Guadalajara, Hong Kong, and Washington DC are the three short-listed cities for that event).

It was the event held in 2006 that caused a major schism in the world of gay sport. Through the FGG’s selection process, the 2006 event had been awarded to an organising committee from Montreal. However in 2003 the FGG withdrew the licence from Montreal — it’s believed that the contentious issues were the size of the event planned; and financial transparency and budgeting. The FGG subsequently awarded the 2006 Gay Games to Chicago. However, the Montreal organising committee decided to proceed with their planned event in 2006 — this became the first World Out Games and the organising committee became the Gay and Lesbian International Sport Association (GLISA). The events were held one week apart — meaning that athletes had to choose to attend one or the other, inevitably reducing attendance at both events and diluting the level of competition.

Following the Montreal event in 2006, the World Out Games have been held as follows:

  • 2009: Copenhagen.
  • 2013: Antwerp.
  • 2017: The World Out Games will be held in Miami Beach.
  • 2021: The World Out Games will be held in Taipei.

Another organisation in the mix is the European Gay and Lesbian Sport Federation (EGLSF). They host major multi-sport events in years where there is no Gay Games or World Out Games planned. The history of these events is:

  • 1992: The Hague
  • 1993: The Hague
  • 1995: Frankfurt
  • 1996: Berlin
  • 1997: Paris
  • 2000: Zurich
  • 2001: Hanover
  • 2003: Copenhagen
  • 2004: Munich
  • 2005: Utrecht
  • 2007: Antwerp
  • 2008: Barcelona
  • 2011: Rotterdam
  • 2012: Budapest
  • 2015: Stockholm
  • 2016: Helsinki
  • 2019: The Eurogames will be held in Rome.

While it could be easily argued that having multiple organisations, all committed to hosting LGBTI-inclusive sporting events, simply creates greater opportunities for LGBTI athletes to participate in sporting competitions, if you ask any of the grass-roots clubs and competitors there is an overwhelming desire to have a unified event that brings everyone from around the world together.

The existence of multiple, competing events also creates other challenges — fragmenting participation and attendance, and diluting the level of competition at events. However the biggest problem is that major multi-sport events such as the Gay Games, World Out Games, and Eurogames have a track record of being poorly organised and a financial disaster. It’s reported that the 2006 World Out Games in Montreal lost over CAD$5 million; the Gay Games in New York, Amsterdam, and Sydney are also understood to have incurred big losses. The 2015 Eurogames in Stockholm was a logistical disaster — events cancelled at the last minute and such a poor level of organisation that it has inevitably tarnished the brand.

The FGG and GLISA have been negotiating for seven years to try and bring their organisations together to hose a single quadrennial event, however in March 2016 it was announced that these talks had broken down irrevocably.

I spoke with Manuel Picaud, co-president of the organising committee for the Paris Gay Games that will be held in 2018, about any potential impact that the falling-out between the FGG and GLISA might have on the 2018 event:

‘The entire LGBTIQ+ community is more than able to mobilise together against homophobia and fight against all kinds of discrimination. Financial and organisational differences should not overshadow the importance represented by the strengths and force of the community when organising and participating in a worldwide event that is fighting against discrimination and ignorance.’

Picaud is also confident in the ability of Paris to deliver a financially sound event:

‘The 2014 Gay Games [in Cleveland] proved to be an economic success for all — the host city organisation, local and regional economic impact, and for the Federation of Gay Games itself. Paris 2018 is ahead of schedule and will offer at least 36 sports and 14 cultural events for 15000 participants — 5000 from France, 5000 from the rest of Europe, and 5000 from the rest of the world.’

I was curious as to whether the Gay Games in Paris in 2018 would need to rethink their approach to security given the security threats:

‘Security measures takes for Paris 2018 will meet the requirements for a worldwide event. Paris 2018 is working with the City of Paris, the Ile de France Region, and the national ministries to ensure a safe, secure, and enjoyable event for all.’

The world today is clearly very different from 1982 — there is now a huge international network of LGBTI sports clubs; professional athletes are slowly starting to emerge from the closet; and there is increasing support from sport governing to support and encourage LGBTI participation.

Perhaps it’s time for LGBTI sports organisations such as the FGG, GLISA, and EGLSF to rethink what their purpose is. If LGBTI athletes can’t have confidence that they’ll be attending a well-run, financially stable event that is not only inclusive but offers world-class competition and social events, then maybe this race has been run.

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