Tense tango over sports events begins
by Roger Brigham
As registration for Gay Games VIII in Cologne closed in May, the tense tango that has tormented the international LGBT sports scene since 2003 took two steps and a pivot, but we haven't seen the final dip and teeth-clenched rose just yet.
Step one: A week ago, the Gay and Lesbian International Sports Association started circulating an online poll asking people for their input on proposals to have GLISA and the Federation of Gay Games collaborate on a single global quadrennial event starting in 2018. The body of the e-mail says it is addressed to "members of GLISA International and the GLISA Continental Associations," but it was sent to many people (such as myself) with no connection to GLISA. And, just as with Major League Baseball all-star balloting, a voter using one computer can vote multiple times.
Step two: Gay Games registration closed Monday. Final registration numbers and breakdowns were not available as of press time, but organizers reported a week ago that more than 8,000 individuals had already signed up. Press releases from Games Cologne the past few years had referred to "more than 12,000" sports and cultural participants expected, but the pace of registrations has always projected closer to 9,000-10,000.
The pivot: Team SF announced it would support the 2010 Gay Games and future Gay Games, but would not support any World Outgames, including the one planned for 2013 in Antwerp. There is no surprise in Team SF's stance – a year ago it called for GLISA to drop plans for 2013 and urged the organization to continue its development of continental events instead – but it is the first time a city team has gone on record calling for an immediate end to the World Outgames.
In an uncontested vote, the Team SF board passed a resolution saying, "Team San Francisco reaffirms its historical commitment to the long established and internationally recognized Gay Games as the preeminent quadrennial global LGBT multi-sport and cultural event. We believe unity behind the Gay Games is an effective and visible means of empowerment, and that continuation of the World Outgames would constitute a dilution of finite resources and a detriment to our community. Therefore, Team SF cannot and will not support any future World Outgames, and we welcome our fellow athletes and artists from across the globe to join us at the Gay Games."
Factors cited by Team SF board members in their discussion included a notable registration decline since the advent of the World Outgames in 2006, resources being stretched too thin to support multiple, competing events resulting in "tournament fatigue," a desire to keep a mission focus on sports and culture rather than subsidizing conferences and parties, and Team SF's historic ties to the Gay Games, Team SF said in a press release.
As a member of the Team SF board, I supported the motion. There was some fear that the motion would be perceived as negative, but the damage done by silence and failure to acknowledge and confront have had far more serious repercussions than speaking up ever would.
The World Outgames have been a noble but failed and unnecessary experiment, forcing athletes and artists to underwrite conferences and parties that are a distraction from their disciplines. The first World Outgames in 2006 is referred to as a "success" in GLISA's e-mail but in reality lost more than $4 million and attracted less than 8,000 athletes. The Copenhagen event in 2009 drew half that many athletes and broke even only after government bodies agreed to turn massive loans into outright grants despite drawing just a fraction of the people to the cities they had originally been told to expect.
So far, the political tension has not significantly driven down Gay Games registrations. Chicago drew 12,000 participants in 2006 – on par with the numbers achieved in the previous three Gay Games – and the Cologne numbers would eclipse the registrations first achieved in 1990 in Vancouver when the Gay Games first left San Francisco.
Of course, this dance has nothing to do with sports or culture (the communities currently paying the band) and much to do with empire building. The World Outgames offer a big human rights component, tack on a lot of parties to entertain folks after they've sat in a meeting room all day, and expect the registration fees from athletes and musicians who are so focused on once-in-a-lifetime practices, trainings, performances, and competitions they have neither the time nor the energy to spend partying or conferencing. That approach to a sports and multicultural event was already tried and abandoned in 2002, and a customer satisfaction poll after the Sydney Gay Games said loud and clear that the participants wanted the focus to remain as is on sports and culture.
The compelling reason for Team SF to speak up were that organizers of last year's Outgames in Copenhagen said they were unaware at the time they took on the event of the widespread opposition to the GLISA approach and the loyalty to the Gay Games. Antwerp ran a very successful EuroGames previously and nobody wanted them to be caught unawares this go round.
Team SF board member Gene Dermody, who moved to San Francisco because of the experience he had at those first Gay Games in 1982, has been heavily involved in the technical support, including the processing of registration numbers, for the Federation of Gay Games and recent host cities.
"In every Gay Games since Vancouver 1990," Dermody said, "the absolute Gay Games registration has reflected huge San Francisco Bay Area support. Team San Francisco has been one of the first and strongest supporters of the FGG, often supplying crucial leadership, including about a dozen Team SF leaders who moved onto FGG leadership roles.
"I analyzed all of the registration data bases from Vancouver on, and categorically, Bay Area registration has been anywhere from 10 percent to 15 percent of the total registration. This is a sizeable representation, and illustrates the power of Team San Francisco in promoting events," Dermody added.
The ninth annual AIDS/LifeCycle from San Francisco to Los Angeles hits the highways this weekend. Opening ceremonies will be held Sunday, June 6, at 6 a.m. at the Cow Palace. From there, 2,500-plus cyclists and their support crews will ride 545 miles south, making overnight stops in Santa Cruz, King City, Paso Robles, Santa Maria, Lompoc, and Ventura before winding up with afternoon closing ceremonies in Los Angeles on Saturday, June 12.
Registration for volunteer "roadies" in this weeklong cycling fundraiser event for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center is closed, but cyclists who have not yet registered can still join if they show up from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, June 5, at the orientation day at the Cow Palace with a $3,000 guarantee in donations, a bike, and a completed medical form. The orientation process takes about three hours.
SFAF and LA Center officials said they expect this year's event to raise more than $11 million to help with their AIDS/HIV services.
"San Francisco AIDS Foundation is working to end the AIDS epidemic in the city where it began with innovative programs for prevention, care, and treatment so that San Francisco can serve as a model for ending AIDS everywhere," said Barbara Kimport, interim CEO of SFAF and one of the cyclists. "We could not realize such an ambitious goal without the commitment, compassion and generosity of our AIDS/LifeCycle participants."
For more information about registration or donating, visit http://www.aidslifecycle.org.