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Gay Games 2014: Over Ten Thousand Athletes Expected

by Xavier van Beesd in Events & Agenda , 16 juni 2014


Pointer Sisters to Perform During Opening Ceremony - Many somewhat nostalgically still remember that first week in August 1998, the “eight days of friendship” in which more than seven hundred thousand gay men and lesbians from all over the world came to Amsterdam to participate in or watch the Gay Games. It was the first year the Games were not organized on the North-American continent.

The Gay Games gave the gay world and the world of business in our capital a huge boost, with Pink Dollars flowing exuberantly. This was the fifth edition of the sports event, which was set up by Tom Waddell (1937-1987). The first edition was held in San Francisco in 1982. According to the commemorative book, the Games in Amsterdam attracted over fourteen thousand participants from eighty-eight countries.

If the first number is correct, this would mean that the Gay Games in Amsterdam were bigger than the Olympics two years earlier in Atlanta, or two years later in Sydney, with over ten thousands participating athletes. The Gay Games in Amsterdam were the first that incorporated an extensive cultural program however, and it is possible that the compilers of the book also counted the people who participated in those cultural events. But in any case, the 1994 Gay Games that were held in New York that year to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall riots - outstripped the Olympic Games in Barcelona (9,356 participants) with 10,864 participating athletes.


Still Necessary?

According to its website, the objective of the Federation of Gay Games (FGG) is “to foster and augment the self-respect of lesbians and gay men throughout the world and to engender respect and understanding from the non-gay world, primarily through an organized international participatory athletic and cultural event held every four years, and commonly known as the Gay Games.” The emphasis on the alleged outsider position of gays and lesbians in this declaration of intent is sometimes met with resistance. On the occasion of the Gay Games in Cologne in 2010, the American Kyle James was wondering in a “Postcard from Europe” on the website dw.de whether the Gay Games were still necessary. According to James, at the time of the first Gay Games in 1982 “being gay was pretty dangerous. AIDS was beginning its deadly rampage, and attitudes outside a few neighborhoods in a few big cities were decidedly homophobic, often violent.”

James thinks that a lot has changed since then and expressed the hope that “we’re moving toward a time when being gay will be no different than having red hair or blue eyes - a part of who you are, but not who you are. These kinds of big, separate events for gay people signal to me a certain feeling of being apart, or being essentially different from straight people.” And this makes him feel somewhat uncomfortable as a Texan, as it evokes memories of “my country’s ugly racial history, of its one-time separate-but-equal legal doctrine that kept blacks and whites apart and justified segregation.” He therefore is of the opinion that “we do better mixing with the bigger world - competing with athletes of all stripes - than sealing ourselves off in a protective bubble. I know there’s still a long way to go to reach our goal. But I think it’s better if we go there with straight people, not on a separate bus.”

Of course James is right in a sense. Last year as well, several sports stars came out of the closet, seemingly without any serious repercussions. Tom Daley’s travel program “Tom Daley Goes Global” for British broadcaster ITV2, for example, was not suddenly cancelled after Tom had put the spotlight on himself by announcing that he was attracted to men, making the viewers on Labor Day witness the fact that, although an excellent diver, he is not so skilled in putting up a tent. On the other hand, the German top soccer player Thomas Hitzlsperger waited until after he ended his career to announce his same-sex preference. Comments from some people involved on German television - with over a million viewers, and not at the infamous “Stammtisch” - made it clear that this was probably a wise decision.


Trouble in Moscow

Furthermore, gay athletes are not welcomed with open arms everywhere, as became clear earlier this year at the Open Games, the first GLBT sports event that was organized in the Russian Federation. The Open Games started on February 26, shortly after the Winter Games in Sochi, in and around Moscow, and with an official registration at the Russian Ministry of Sports. Despite the official character, the opening ceremony in an industrial area was cancelled. Journalists faced closed doors, heavily guarded by the police. On the day of the ceremony, the organization was faced with cancellations by sports venues, hostels and hotels, with Russian participants being subjected to unwarranted checks by immigration officials and being asked to leave their accommodation. Bomb threats were made, and a smoke bomb was actually detonated.

According to the Russian GLBT Sports Federation these were directed actions. Konstantin Yablotskiy, co-chairman of the federation stated that “unofficially, someone from the authorities made the decision not to host our events.” He underlined that, with the Open Games, they were not protesting the anti-gay propaganda law, and that the law was not broken “because our event is not public, all the activities are organized in indoor venues. We have only invited adults, who are over 18 years old. So there’s not any connection with this new law. [...] We just want to send a positive message to our authorities, our society, to say that we are good people - we are normal people.” According to Elvina Yuvakaeva of the organizing committee, homophobia in the Russian Federation is mostly the result of ignorance: “People don’t know anything about homosexuality, they only call on stereotypes.” Yablotskiy states that “sports can help to bring understanding between different groups of society.”

Despite of all this opposition, the Open Games did take place, as Greg Louganis - who opened the Gay Games in New York in 1994 and was invited as the “American ambassador” - reported: “With only one person knowing the location of each venue, we had to assemble in the Moscow Metro and go from there each time. It was odd and eerie at the same time, but we pulled it off!” The situation in the Russian Federation clearly proves that the Gay Games as an instrument of emancipation is not redundant, even though the acceptance of “gay marriage” is increasing world-wide.  

In his comparison with racial inequality in the United States, Kyle James is also completely missing the fact that this was a legally enforced state of affairs, while the separateness of the Gay Games (that is only partial, as about ten percent of the participants are straight) is by choice. A lot of gays and lesbians, despite of the legal situation, like the idea of celebrating “amongst themselves” as the number of visitors to Gay Prides prove, also in countries with full legal equality.


Welcome to Ohio

For the ninth edition, the Gay Games return to the country of origin. They will be held from August 9-16 in the cities Cleveland and Akron in the American state Ohio. Approximately seventy-five percent of the activities will take place in Cleveland and the rest in Akron. The major of Cleveland, Frank Jackson, won the bid for his city by promising the selection Committee: “You will be the centerpiece and we will wrap all around you to ensure your success.”

So far, Cleveland is the smallest city in which the Gay Games have ever been organized. The organization expects that approximately thirty thousand athletes will travel to the district and will be visiting the hotels, restaurants and other places of interest in the city. It is expected that the Gay Games will give an economic boost of around fifty million dollars to the north-east of Ohio, notes Mary Zaller of the organization. To which she adds: “I want as many small businesses as possible to get a piece of that pie.”

The organization has made it possible for smaller companies to sponsor the event with small amounts from $500 to $14,000. “For just $500, a small business can be a sponsor of the Gay Games and get our logo on their website and their logo on our website, program and social media,” notes Zaller. “It gives small businesses the power to put themselves out there and show their support of the GLBT community and of equality and equal rights.” It would be great if visitors would show their appreciation and spend their Pink money at sponsoring companies.

Even though Cleveland and Akron may not be high on the list of gay dream destinations, there are plenty of other reasons besides the athletes, the enjoyment and international fraternization to visit the Gay Games.



Opening Ceremony

At the end of April, the organization announced that Lance Bass, Broadway actress Andrea McArdle and the Pointer Sisters will perform during the spectacular opening ceremony on August 9 in de Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. Patrick Roberge, producer of the opening event: “I’m very excited to have such a great line-up of artists joining our cast of more than 400 performers. The Opening Ceremony will be a grand celebration that will set the tone for fantastic Games.”

Singer, dancer, actor, producer and radio host Lance Bass will draw on his many talents as a celebrity guest in the 2.5-hour spectacular. Bass has transcended from his formative ‘N Sync roots into a versatile entertainer and high-profile advocate in the gay community. He’s competed on “Dancing with the Stars,” written the New York Times bestseller “Out of Sync” and earned the Human Rights Campaign Visibility Role award.

Andrea McArdle portrayed the original Annie on Broadway, receiving a Tony nomination for her work. Since then, she has performed in dozens of well-known musicals, including “Evita,” “Cabaret,” “Gypsy,” “Grease” and “Les Miserables.” Appearing in cooperation with Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS, McArdle will join the Gay Games Chorus in a celebration of music from Broadway.

The Pointer Sisters, of course, do not need an introduction. They’ve helped close the Olympics, and now they will help open the Gay Games. The legendary Ruth and Anita, joined by Ruth’s granddaughter, Sadako, will take the stage to wrap up the Opening Ceremony with unbelievable energy. “With such great hits, like ‘Jump’ and ‘I’m So Excited,’ these singers will leave participants and spectators truly excited for all of Games Week,” said Michelle DeLozier, co-chair of the Culture Committee overseeing the Opening Ceremony.

Opening Ceremony Co-Chair Bill Guentzler said, “The Opening Ceremony will be an experience like none other. We’re thrilled to have such great celebrity talent joining us to celebrate the thousands of athletes and artists participating in the Games.” And fellow Co-Chair John Garofalo concurred: “This certainly is a can’t-be-missed event - not just for Games participants but for thousands of Cleveland+Akron residents who want to be part of history and have a great time.”



Closing Event

The closing ceremony will take place in the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame. Participants will gather next door at the Great Lakes Science Center for a quarter-mile march, cheered on by local cheer teams, to the plaza at The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It will have the ceremony including the transfer of flag to the host of the 2018 Gay Games, Paris, France. It will have the entertainment on its own stage plus hands-on artistic activities produced by local artists and organizations, and the Gay Games quilt on display. Fireworks and the extinguishing of the 2014 Gay Games cauldron flame will signal the official end of the Week but expect the after party to keep things going long into the night.

But of course, the Gay Games are mostly about sports. The organization expects that around eleven thousand athletes from over sixty countries will participate in an extensive program of nearly forty sports events. The fee for a general registration is $195.00 and the registration term closes on May 31. For each sports event, a (varying) amount is also due. Those who want to register in June will have to pay a late fee of $30, and from July 1-15 this late fee will be $80. Registrations after July 15 will not be accepted. “You don’t have to be gay, you don’t have to be good, you just have to be 18 to participate,” Mary Zaller notes. “We’re all about inclusion, participation and your personal best.” If you consider yourself to be an athlete, it is not too late to register. But during the week of the Gay Games, an extensive cultural program will also be in place, and nearly every night there will be exuberant parties. So for those who are not athletic but do like to party, Cleveland and Akron will keep you entertained in the first week of August.


Visit www.gg9cle.com for more information.








 
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