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Outgames 2009: Future world event up in the air

The future of the World Outgames depends on large amounts of public money. This could be a tough sell given the global recession and the large dropoff in attendance between 2006 and 2009.

By Jim Buzinski
Outsports.com

Now that the second World Outgames have ended in Copenhagen, the question of will there be a third is still unanswered.

More on the future World Outgames in a moment. But having spent the week covering the sporting events in Copenhagen (I skipped all the human rights conferences), I give high marks to the organizers and volunteers.

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A swimmer stretches at the Copenhagen Aqua Arena. Check out our latest photo gallery from the Outgames.

There are always glitches at every multisport gay and lesbian event, and Copenhagen was no exception. But by and large, the sports were held in quality venues, were well run and played by enthusiastic athletes. It was what I expected. People were playing sports in a beautiful and accommodating city with other gay and lesbian athletes; there was little to dislike (except the outrageously high food prices).

There were two gay-bashing incidents that cast a shadow over the event. First, three people were injured in a street attack after the opening ceremony. Three days later, one person was hurt after a 31-year-old man hurled three bombs (9-inch explosives) onto the track and field venue. The man was arrested with at least six more devices in his backpack and it was luck that only one person was hurt. It pissed me off when the spin around town was that these were mere "fireworks," as if some teen was lobbing cherry bombs as a prank. This was a serious attack and I was surprised at how little attention the incident received (I was the only media person to speak with the injured athlete).

Overall, Copenhagen came off relatively smoothly, but this does not mean there will be another World Outgames in 2013. Everything has to do with money, and the event has to basically start from scratch. Antwerp, Belgium, is the preferred site, but no contract has yet to be signed with the city and GLISA, the umbrella organization that licenses the Outgames.

"We don't know yet," where the 2013 Games will be held, GLISA co-president Wessel Van Kampen of Amsterdam, told Outsports contributing writer Ross Forman. "Last year, at the delegate congress in Vancouver, our membership told the board that we like the [application from] Antwerp, Belgium very much, so go ahead and negotiate a contract with them. And we're in the process of doing that."

Good luck. The 2006 Outgames in Montreal had about 8,000 participants, with 2009 Copenhagen getting 4,400 athletes plus another 1,100 conference attendees. This is a downward trend that does not bode well for GLISA to find a city willing to spend public money on the event, and the World Outgames can't exist without public funds. The Guardian in London nicely summed up the financial realities in Copenhagen:

"The ($6 million) the city of council of Copenhagen used to fund the games has provoked the ire of some commentators, who have also been less than impressed with the number of participants. When Copenhagen was first announced as the host city ... there were hopes for more than 15,000 people to take part - an estimate that is far off the 5,500 participants who have registered at the Outgames headquarters this week."

Any city looking to host the event will do a cold financial calculation before committing money (even more so during a global recession) and 5,500 registrants is a weak number to justify a large financial outlay. Antwerp was to have paid GLISA a $209,000 deposit by July 1 but failed, blaming the recession. Van Kampen said that GLISA has alternatives if Antwerp falls through, but would not name them.

Without public money, a future Outgames will have to rely on corporate sponsors, and those were few and far between in Copenhagen. I fail to see how Antwerp would be any better given the low profile of the event and the new global economic realities. The World Outgames will never be held in the U.S. (no government anywhere would give money) or again in Canada (the 2006 Montreal Outgames went bankrupt and left a trail of creditors), so this pretty much leaves Western Europe as the only alternative. GLISA does not have a lot of options.

There has been a lot of talk recently of merging the Outgames and Gay Games into one event (likely to be called the Gay Games given its much longer history). GLISA co-president Julia Applegate told Forman that if this happened, she'd be a strong proponent to maintain the Outgames' cultural program and human rights conference alongside the sports program. To hear a GLISA official broach the subject tells me that its officers know that sustaining the World Outgames will be difficult (smaller regional Outgames like those planned for New Zealand in 2011 have a much better chance of long-term success).

One interesting comparison will come next year when the 2010 Gay Games are held in Cologne, Germany. Should the Gay Games, in existence since 1982, draw significantly more registrants than Copenhagen, this will show that it's more than the recession that affected turnout for the 2009 World Outgames. I suspect the world is only big and rich enough for one international gay and lesbian sporting event.