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Why are there two LGBT games?

By Andrew Delaware

Chicago and Montreal are readying themselves to host massive sporting events this summer for the LGBT community just merely one week apart from each other. What led to two sets of games? How can both be successful?

It’s late October 2001. Delegates from the FGG (Federation of Gay Games) have eagerly assembled in Johannesburg, South Africa, for the annual general meeting. On the agenda, two very important topics: the progress in Sydney for the 2002 Gay Games and the voting for the host of Gay Games VII in 2006.

Passionate presentations are delivered from the bidding cities of Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles and Montreal. The highlight of the presentations comes from the bid committee from Montreal who wave a $100,000 dollar check in the air, offering to present it to the FGG immediately. The financial backing from all levels of government in the liberal country of Canada is attractive to a federation beleaguered by a string of financially challenged games. The results from the vote are tabulated, resulting in a landslide victory for the Montreal games.

In dramatic style, Montreal was named the host of Gay Games VII. Offering to sign the license agreement immediately and hand over the $100,000, Montreal was gently turned down by the FGG board, who indicated that the agreement needed to be negotiated and tailored to the special needs of the host city.

Throughout 2002, much focus was on Sydney, host of Gay Games VI. Unbeknownst to most casual observers, Sydney’s organizing committee was limping to the finish line. Of particular concern was obtaining the release of funds from Ticketek in advance of the games.

"What many people do not know is that, had it not been for the actions of some key 2002 board members and other guarantors to counter Ticketek's refusal to release funds (contrary to Ticketek's previous promise), the Sydney Gay Games was on the verge of cancelation just about a month before," stated the FGG Executive Committee in an open letter dated November 2003. Although a huge success in the eyes of the participants, the Sydney Games ended with a deficit of approximately $2 million (Australian).

Meanwhile, negotiations between the FGG and Montreal were labored. Publicly, the issues identified by both sides were summed up as the size of the games, and financial control. Montreal had planned a lavish and sizable affair with prospective athletes ranging from 19,000-24,000 throughout the negotiations. Meanwhile, the FGG wanted Montreal to hold a smaller games, around the 12,000 mark. This request became that much more emphatic after the fallout in Sydney. Federation of Gay Games director Charlie Carson went as far as to publicly state that "thankfully members of Sydney 2002 have been blunt enough to tell Montreal they’re crazy."

Montreal, meanwhile, believed that to reduce the size of the games would be the ticket to bankruptcy—a larger games were more financially viable.

Meanwhile, a second contentious issue was that of financial control. As Montreal co-presidents Lucie Duguay and Mark Tewksbury stated in October 2003, "If you were on a Board of Directors which was held legally accountable for the decisions of a corporation, would it be reasonable that you be expected to give final authority to an outside body to make those financial decisions on your behalf? If the FGG truly wanted only reasonable rights of supervision of our plans we might not find ourselves at an impasse with the negotiations. What the FGG has requested is final approval rights."

Further complicating the situation was that the majority of money supporting the Montreal Games was from Quebec, and local governments, making it difficult to justify outside final authority.

The impasse turned ugly in late 2003, when it was dragged into both gay and mainstream media. Needless to say, neither side was in the best frame of mind for negotiating when the FGG's annual general meeting rolled around in Chicago.

What happened in Chicago is perhaps the most devastating event in LGBT sport history. The FGG pulled the Gay Games from Montreal, indicating that it would initiate an abbreviated bidding process to secure a new host for the 2006 Games. Meanwhile, Montreal, two years and millions of taxpayers' dollars into the planning of its games, announced that they would continue with plans to host their own games, announced as the 1st World OutGames.

With little more than two years to go, in March 2004, the FGG selected Chicago as the replacement host of the 2006 Gay Games. Much to the surprise of outside observers, the date for the Games was selected as July 15-22, closing merely a week before Montreal’s opening ceremonies on July 29. Resisting pressure from the gay and lesbian sport community to hold the Gay Games in an alternate year, the FGG and Chicago bid committees went forward with their plans to host in 2006, stating boldly that 2006 is a Gay Games year.

Response in the lesbian and gay sport community was passionate, with opinions and accusations flaring in meetings and online discussion boards worldwide. The most significant coming together of concerned athletes happened in January 2004, resulting in the formation of a new international sport federation called GLISA (Gay and Lesbian International Sport Association.) Modeled after the IOC, and with a bold statement for plans to develop into a viable alternative to the FGG, the formation of GLISA was heralded by Montreal 2006 and vilified by FGG supporters within hours of its birth as an organization.

Not surprisingly, GLISA became the governing body for the OutGames, and attracted members largely from groups who were disenfranchised by the FGG. Led by the charismatic and highly capable Thomas Dolan and Catherine Meade, with support from knowledgeable sport insider Rachel Corbett, GLISA has grown considerably, gaining respect from the most unlikely of sources.

The most crushing blow to the FGG happened shortly after the formation of GLISA. In March 2004, the European Gay and Lesbian Sports Federation (EGLSF) announced that it would enter into a mutual promotional agreement with Montreal 2006 and withdraw its membership in the FGG. It was this catastrophic event that eventually characterized the Chicago Games as the "American Games" and the Montreal OutGames as the destination for athletes from the rest of the world.

The rhetoric and media wars eventually subsided with both games taking on a polite message of "we wish the other well." Both Chicago and Montreal turned their sights to preparing and promoting their massive athletic events.

Fast forward to 2006. Much to the surprise of many onlookers, neither of the games have collapsed. According to the most recent press releases from each host city, the Chicago Gay Games and the Montreal OutGames are each expecting 12,000 athletes. A dazzling array of performers and artists are scheduled to perform in each city and the cities are being dressed to impress. Most importantly, athletes around the globe are training hard, preparing to compete in a sporting event that celebrates gay culture.

As was the case in Sydney, we won’t know for quite some time how each of the games has performed, financially and otherwise. One must wonder, given the number of athletes attending both games, if Montreal’s estimation of 19,000-24,000 athletes was actually attainable—in a single host environment, it may have been possible after all. Conversely, given their claims that anything less than 16,000 athletes would lead their games into the red, have they managed to scale back accordingly as the FGG had requested of them all along?

For the sake of the athletes from around the world traveling to each of the games for an experience of a lifetime—we wish both Chicago and Montreal well in the weeks that lie ahead. May the spirit of participation, inclusion and personal best permeate the competition as we celebrate gay and lesbian sport this summer!

Stay tuned as RealJock brings you from the ground coverage of both gay games. For information about the Gay Games, visit gaygameschicago.org. For information about the 1st World OutGames, visit montreal2006.org.