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Chicago Gets '06 Gay Games

(This story was published in 2004).

Chicago was awarded the rights to host Gay Games VII in July 2006, in a decision that leaves the host city barely more than two years to organize an event for an expected 12,000 participants.

"Chicago Games Inc. put together an extraordinary proposal that demonstrates significant community support, a sound financial plan, and an international vision for Gay Games VII," Kathleen Webster, Federation of Gay Games co-president, said in a statement. "We look forward to working closely with them to make the next Gay Games an outstanding event for all our participants."

Chicago beat out Los Angeles, though final vote totals were not announced. The two cities were the only bidders in a rushed process that started last November when Montreal and the Federation split over signing a contract. Montreal was chosen in 2001 to be the host city, but the two sides never signed an official agreement.

Dennis Sneyers and Sue Connolly, Chicago Games Inc. Co-Chairs, said in a statement: “We are thrilled to be named host for the 2006 Gay Games. Chicago’s LGBT sports clubs, cultural institutions, government and business supporters are eager to welcome the world to our beautiful city, and to produce an unforgettable week of competition, cultural events, and camaraderie. With Chicago’s amazing lakefront, gorgeous skyline, world class sports facilities, strong LGBT community and renowned sports fans, we believe there is no better place than Chicago to welcome Gay Games participants in 2006."

The bids from Los Angeles and Chicago presented very different financial models. The Los Angeles bid envisioned costs of $12.5 million for 10,000 participants, while Chicago comes in at half that, $6.2 million, for 12,000 participants. Los Angeles proposed a paid staff of 26, Chicago nine. The Federation, in dire need of cash, will receive a $400,000 licensing fee.

Athletes preparing to go to Chicago had better be prepared to pony up. The host’s bid proposed registration fees that would be the highest in Games history, with the average between $210 and $260, and some as high as $380.

“We concluded that a stable budget model required that a higher percentage of the costs must be borne by the participants themselves, and that these fees must be more representative of the actual cost of the sports in which the athletes participated,” Chicago said in a letter to the Federation during the bid process. “We also concluded that an event that has failed to break even since 1986 must begin with a conservative ‘floor’ budget and staffing configuration that would ensure, first and foremost, that a successful event would be financially viable.” The last four Games--Vancouver 1990, New York 1994, Amsterdam 1998 and Sydney 2002—all lost money, with Amsterdam and Sydney each coming close to being canceled at the last minute.

The Games will be held July 15-22, with opening ceremonies either at Wrigley Field (home to baseball’s Cubs) or Soldier Field (home to the NFL's Bears), which was remodeled last year. Closing ceremonies are set for Millennium Park. Twenty-five sports will be offered to an estimated 10,646 registered athletes in clustered settings called “sports villages.” For example, the “Lakefront Village” on the coast with Lake Michigan, would be home to beach volleyball, bodybuilding, marathon, rowing, sailing, tennis, triathlon and volleyball. In addition, 1,355 people are expected to sign up for various cultural competitions.

Chicago faces two threats to executing a successful event: the concentrated time frame that allows for only 28 months to get ready, and a competing sports event being held by the Montreal group that was originally awarded the Gay Games. Montreal has the organizational advantage since its organizers are the same people who won the Gay Games VII bid in 2001, and they’ve been planning for more than two years. The group is proposing early registration starting June 1, and has announced a three-year sponsorship deal (terms unannounced) with Canadian beer company Labatt. The organizers are also budgeting for 14,000 athletes and 2,000 cultural participants, making it the largest gay sporting event ever.

The Montreal event, tentatively called Rendez-vous Montreal 2006 Games, will be held July 29-Aug. 5. With the events held so close together, it’s difficult to imagine many athletes or teams able to afford to attend both. Factoring in costs for travel, accommodations, food, entertainment and registration to attend two one-week events could easily top $3,000 per person.

Montreal took a preemptive shot at the Federation the day before the winning host city was announced, by accusing it of “deliberately dividing the American [gay] community against itself.”

“Once it was clear that Montreal would go ahead with its games without the FGG label, delegates had repeatedly asked that the Gay Games be deferred for one year,” Montreal organizers said in a press release. “Though the market may be able to support two events of this kind in the same year, holding them so close together will deliberately divide the American Gay and Lesbian sporting community.

“Montreal 2006 must, in good conscience and as a gesture of good will warn the city chosen by the FGG that it is being lured into a trap and will find itself left to its own devices by the FGG, bearing the financial and ethical consequences entirely on its own. Montreal 2006 is already guaranteed to be a large-scale success, thanks to the support it has obtained from hundreds of sports teams around the world. It is the American gay and lesbian community that will be placed in an intolerable and ethically difficult situation, forced to choose between two games. Many American teams appear to have already chosen Montréal. Will they be unfairly frowned upon in their own country? American athletes should be allowed to decide for themselves.

“At a time when American gays and lesbians are being subjected to unprecedented attacks on their civil rights, the FGG, as an organization claiming to have the best interests of the gay and lesbian community at heart, should have had the decency and foresight not to deliberately divide the American community against itself.”

The Montreal reaction is really over the top, churlish and divisive, and could prove to be a PR blunder by making it appear that Montreal would like nothing more than the Gay Games to collapse. It is also an insult to the Federation delegates by trying to link their decision on the '06 Games with serious political assaults against gay rights in the U.S. It begs the question that if Montreal organizers had the best interests of the gay sports movement in mind, why didn’t they move their event? They certainly weren’t locked into 2006 any more than the Federation was, and the latter has tradition on its side. Since 1982, the Gay Games have been a summer staple every four years (save for 2002, when they were held in November for the Australian spring). “This is all about how FGG can pick up some money quick for a license agreement. The fastest way was for them to sign a bid for 2006," Tom Czerniecki, Montreal's marketing communications director, told Outsports.

The continuing animosity between Montreal and the Federation means that the next two years could be ugly and contentious as both sides play to the hearts, minds and wallets of gay athletes. As Shamey Cramer, CEO of the Los Angeles bid, said to Chicago in congratulating the organizers on their win: “Good luck--you're definitely going to need it.”