Proposal for sports event
nixes Gay Games name
by Roger Brigham
An announcement last weekend aimed at ending the longstanding rivalry between two global quadrennial sports and cultural festivals had some clubs applauding, but left many longtime supporters of the Gay Games wondering if their brand and legacy were being unceremoniously dumped.
At the close of last weekend's annual membership meeting of the European Gay and Lesbian Sports Federation in Manchester, United Kingdom, EGLSF posted an announcement on its Web site from the co-presidents of the Federation of Gay Games and the Gay and Lesbian International Sports Association outlining a proposal to cease operating separate quadrennial events after 2014 and work together for a single event in 2018.
But that event might not be called the Gay Games.
An announcement outlining the proposal was briefly posted on the GLISA Web site Tuesday, March 9, before being removed. There was no announcement on the FGG site.
The posting by GLISA, labeled a joint statement by GLISA presidents Julia Applegate and Wessel van Kampen and FGG presidents Kurt Dahl and Emy Ritt, said that pending board approval, the organizations would "organize one quadrennial event in 2018" for which a "new name will be proposed." The event would be made up of "three equally important components – sports, culture, and human rights."
In addition, the 2018 selection process would be created by a joint steering committee, and GLISA and the FGG would promote each other's events.
Following the FGG-GLISA announcement, EGLSF voted not to hold EuroGames in 2013 and 2014. Before the launch of the GLISA's World Outgames in 2006, EuroGames had been held in all non-Gay Games years. One of the criticisms of the Outgames was that it further disrupted the EuroGames cycles, thereby diminishing its brand.
Gay Games supporters contacted by the Bay Area Reporter portrayed the proposal to retool and rename the event – which would require a two-thirds vote of the FGG board of directors and a majority vote of its assembly member organizations – as a precipitous and imperious discarding of a brand that took years to build, and foolhardy in light of inherent weaknesses in GLISA shown by its inability to stage successful World Outgames.
The inaugural 2006 event in Montreal lost several million dollars with a third of the participants it had sought. The second event in 2009 in Copenhagen finished in the black but with a fraction of the participants expected. Organizers complained that promised GLISA marketing support was nonexistent.
"To say I am upset and disappointed with this decision is an understatement," said former FGG secretary Charles King. "I do not understand how the FGG co-presidents can, in one fell swoop, give equal billing to an organization that by Copenhagen's own admission in its final report offered no assistance in the organization of Outgames II, ignore many of the stakeholders and constituents who have offered sweat equity, time and money to further the cause of Gay Games, and ignore 30 years of brand building, history and advocacy of the LGBT sport and culture community by even mentioning in print the possibility of renaming the Gay Games in 2018.
"I hope the part of the 'community' who is firmly against these developments finally speak up and be heard, because someone on the FGG board is clearly not listening," King said.
Gene Dermody, former president of the FGG and a current Team SF board member, said he was "shocked."
"I read this announcement with disbelief and shock," Dermody said. "How can the FGG co-presidents just betray the board and its constituents in this one sweeping agreement without discussion?"
Dermody questioned ending the Gay Games brand.
"How do you throw away your brand, make a deal with a failed brand or competitor, and plan to merge under another brand? The result will be the death of the Gay Games as we know them, and the birth of another EuroPride festival," he said.
FGG's Dahl said changing the name of the event was a possibility – not a done deal.
"Again, the steering committee would make that recommendation," Dahl said. "To be perfectly honest, and we discussed this as a board, this is something that we should look at anyway. We have to look at the word 'gay' and see if it is pigeonholing us, and costing us sponsors."
Dahl also spoke with the B.A.R. about a number of issues raised by the announcement.
Regarding support for GLISA events, Dahl said that although the FGG would promote GLISA's 2011 Continental Outgames in New Zealand and Canada, it would definitely not support 2013 World Outgames planned for Antwerp, Belgium. EuroGames will be held in 2011 in Rotterdam and 2012 in Budapest.
The decision to proceed with Outgames in Antwerp was announced last December when contracts with the city and GLISA were signed. Following the Antwerp announcement, Team SF and other LGBT sports organizations began internal discussions affirming that they would concentrate on supporting future Gay Games but would not promote any more Outgames.
When GLISA, which was created by the organizers of Outgames in Montreal, was preparing a presentation at the 2004 Gay and Lesbian Athletic Foundation conference in Boston, it initially informed supporters that it planned to hold Outgames in 2010 – the same year as Gay Games VIII. Representatives of organizations that supported GLISA were outraged, yelling that they had never asked for a second World Outgames and that scheduling it in 2010 revealed an implicit goal to destroy the Gay Games. The following morning organizers announced there would be a second Outgames – but it would be in 2009 rather than 2010.
That put the EGLSF, which had thrown considerable political weight behind the Outgames, in the awkward
The 2006 Gay Games came in as expected with 12,000 participants, but World Outgames 1, which organizers initially said needed 24,000 participants to be successful, pulled in about 8,000 and lost more than $4 million. Copenhagen organizers initially projected more than 8,000 participants for 2009 and drew just 5,100. Team Berlin, among others, cited the dueling quadrennial events as the reason for declining participation.
Those concerns led to a series of talks beginning last year between GLISA and the FGG as sports organizations increasingly called for just one quadrennial event. At the FGG general assembly annual meeting last October in Cologne, the membership expressed a strong desire to keep the Gay Games as the quadrennial event and to keep the focus on sports and culture, with conferences possible as a tertiary element.
Hence the public outcry from several LGBT sports activists with the announcement that sports, culture, and human rights would be "three equally important components" in the 2018 event and that it might not even be called the Gay Games. FGG's Dahl said those alarms were unfounded: that coming to an agreement with GLISA was imperative to end the duel.
"Human rights doesn't necessarily mean that it would be a conference," Dahl said. "The steering committee would make the recommendations. We don't want to lose sports as one of the top priorities."
Dahl said it was imperative to have GLISA at the negotiating table.
"In order to get to one quadrennial event, we need to work with GLISA in order to get them to agree that there is only one event and it is in 2018," Dahl said. "They need to be at the table to stop continuing the Outgames occurring on every four years on the calendar they have. They can bring organizations back into the fold. There are organizations that support the Outgames and not the Gay Games. If we want this to be a worldwide event with sports and culture, we need to get those organizations back into the fold."
But merging, changing the name, and risking focus on and dignity of sports – one of the initial events proposed for Copenhagen 2009 was purse throwing – is something many LGBT sportspeople in resource-strained organizations will be unlikely to embrace.
"Hopefully cooler heads will prevail," Dermody said, "and this will not be approved by the FGG board, and elections will solve the out-of-control kumbaya. I will personally fight this."
Others welcomed the joint announcement.
"Many of our member clubs have expressed a desire for a return to a single quadrennial global LGBT sport event," said Pepe Garcia Vazquez, male co-president of EGLSF. "The joint statement received a standing ovation lasting almost two minutes at the Assembly. This surely demonstrates how important this is to our membership."
Since late 2003, when a decision by Montreal organizers to terminate negotiations to host the 2006 Gay Games in order to compete head-on with the FGG with an alternative event of their own created a major political rift in the global LGBT sports community, diehard Gay Games supporters suspected a deliberate plot to kill off their sports-centric event in favor of a major tourism event in which sports would play a diminished role amid parties, conferences, parties, and concerts. Those fears reached a boiling point when word of the presidents' statement leaked out.
The Gay Games, originally named the Gay Olympic Games before a legal decision barred the use of the word "Olympic" as a trademark infringement, have evolved as a brand and a mission since their founding in 1982 in San Francisco to engender a battery of sports and cultural organizations globally representing tens of thousands of LGBT athletes and artists.
Breaking from the elitist mold of the Olympic Games, which draws only the best athletes countries can produce, the Gay Games operate under the principle of "participation, inclusion and personal best," bringing together athletes regardless of orientation, age, religion, gender, health status or athletic ability to compete together in a safe and accepting environment. Efforts to have a greater focus on parties and conferences in favor of keeping the event focused on sports with culture were rejected in a poll of participants after the 2002 Gay Games in Sydney, and the commitment to the sports-culture formula was formalized with passage of an "Image of the Gay Games" white paper in 2003.
Following the Montreal defection, the FGG retooled its organization. It underwent a bylaw change to separate an operating board from a two-tiered membership assembly, completely redrafted its licensing agreements for future hosts, and changed its site selection process. In all, the pro bono legal work covering those changes was close to $500,000. Site selection is voted on by only full members of the assembly.
By contrast, GLISA has never had competitive bid selection for World Outgames hosts.
Full disclosure: Roger Brigham, the B.A.R.'s sports columnist, is chair of Wrestlers WithOut Borders, which is a member organization of the Federation of Gay Games.