The games behind the games: will gay and lesbian athletes flock to Chicago’s Gay Games VII in 2006 or to Montreal’s RendezVous 2006 a week later? Geography and George W. Bush are helping shape participants’ decisions
The divorce is final, and it’s too late for reconciliation. The Federation of Gay Games left Montreal at the altar in November 2003 because of irreconcilable differences over finances and ran off with Chicago. Montreal found a flesh suitor in the brand-new World Outgames and will consummate the union with RendezVous 2006, a week of athletic contests scheduled for July 29 through August 5, 2006. That’s just a week after Gay Games VII (July 15-22) ends its honeymoon in the Windy City.
Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender athletes throughout the world are cordially invited to attend both celebrations. But will they? And if not, who will go to which city’s games?
Attendance at past Gay Games suggests, not surprisingly, that Canadian attendance will spike at the Montreal games and Americans will flock to the Chicago games. The 2002 Gay Games in Sydney, for example, saw eight times more Australian participants than at the 1998 Amsterdam games.
Most members of the Toronto Gay Hockey Association plan to register for the World Outgames because it will be easier for them to attend, a spokesman for the 135-member group says. The nine-team hockey association hopes that the two sporting events won’t be scheduled so closely to each other in the future. “I don’t think anybody knows where to direct their anger and confusion [about the dueling events],” says the spokesman, who says he can’t give his name without risk of losing his job because of his sexual orientation. “But there is anger and confusion.”
Most at risk is the international character of the Chicago event. A poll conducted by the European Gay and Lesbian Sport Federation, which withdrew from the Gay Games federation last year, found that 51% of the 636 European athletes responding planned to attend the Montreal event while only 7% planned to go to Chicago; 7% hoped to go to both.
Kevin Boyer, vice cochair of the Chicago games, counters that a full year and a haft before the Chicago kickoff, athletes from 25 countries have already registered.
Spokesmen for both sides agree that success depends upon the athletes themselves. “We have said that the decision where to go in 2006 must be taken by the athlete,” says Ole Udsholt, a board member of the European federation and the Gay and Lesbian International Sport Association (GLISA), the organization set up to administer the World Outgames.
The political gulf between the current U.S. and Canadian governments has also come into play. Jurgen Beier of the German ballroom dancing group Pinkball room Berlin says he plans to attend the Outgames but not the Gay Games, in part because of President Bush’s antigay politics. German travel consultant Andreas J.G. Wellauer wrote in The Advocate last year that practical considerations such as “global visa rules, transborder health regulations, and data privacy issues” would discourage non-U.S. athletes from traveling to Chicago, particularly those with HIV who would need a special waiver.
International sentiment about Bush will be a hurdle for Gay Games Chicago, says Boyer. In response, his group is striving to let foreign athletes know that “Chicago is dominated by people who are supportive of us.” As an example, Boyer cites Chicago mayor Richard Daley’s comment last year that he supports same-sex marriage.
The competition for participants may ease after 2006. GLISA has decided that future Outgames will be held during odd-numbered years beginning in 2009, to avoid a repeat of 2006’s dueling games. But many lesbian and gay athletes wonder whether both the Gay Games and the World Outgames can survive.
“People from various organizations are trying to say it’s better to have the choice,” says Rob Smitherman, a Virginia basketball player registered for the Gay Games in Chicago. “I don’t think it’s good for the gay sports movement, but that’s where we are now. I hope eventually the two parties will come together, but that may not be possible.”
Others believe that unity is inevitable. “Will everybody be back together at some point? Yes, I do think so,” says Bernie LaFianza, president of West Hollywood Aquatics, a swimming and water polo club in California. “Will it be out or necessity because there’s no other place to go? I think that’s more likely. The people who are organizing Outgames are not a proven entity.”
But so far the divorced parties aren’t doing much talking. While the Federation of Gay Games is planning an open-invitation conference in London this month about the future of the gay sports movement, representatives of GLISA haven’t yet agreed to show up. “We are open to welcoming back everyone into the family,” says Roberto Mantaci, the Gay Games federation’s Paris-based copresident. “From our perspective, that would be the best possible outcome.”
GLISA responds that its own invitation to chat has been long ignored. “For some time, we’ve asked the Federation of Gay Games to sit down and talk with us,” says Rachel Corbett, GLISA’s executive director. “Our world recognizes we are here, so what’s wrong with acknowledging that and sitting down and talking with us?” Klaus Wowereit, the openly gay mayor of Berlin, also suggested a reconciliation meeting after dueling German sports factions wanted to host the 2009 Outgames and the 2010 Gay Games. That meeting never happened.
Tom Waddell, the late founder of the Gay Games, would likely be appalled by the dissolution of the world unity he had always hoped to showcase. An Olympic decathlete who died in 1987, Waddell launched the games in San Francisco in 1982 and 1986; they’ve been held in a different city every four years since. About 11,000 athletes participated in the 2002 Gay Games in Sydney; organizers for both of the 2006 events hope to exceed that number and say that sponsorships and registrations are outpacing predictions. Gay Games Chicago, which has a goal of 12,000 participants, reported 1,900 paid registrations as of December 31. “It’s going to meet every expectation and then some,” says Boyer.
World Outgames Montreal reported over 3,000 paid registrants as of January and hopes to surpass 16,000. “The question if it is good [to have two events]–the athletes have the answer,” Outgames spokesman Jean-Yves Duthel says. “They are choosing where to go.”
Rich Williams, a tennis player planning to attend the Chicago Gay Games with Team Florida, says athletes should view the two events as a good development. The Sun Games in Madrid, the PrideGames in Manchester, England, and other multisport events already coexist harmoniously, he points out. “There’s always been a choice, though not so close on the calendar,” Williams says. “Rather than pit these two events against each other, we should celebrate this. It’s an expression of growth within the gay sports movement.”
Brian Todd, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Rowing Federation, has a more pragmatic view. “We are thrilled that there are rowing opportunities at both events,” Todd says diplomatically. “I don’t think it’s necessarily bad to have two events after 2006.”
Henneman has written for the San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles Times.
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