(This story was published in 2006).
I feel blessed in that I get to experience these events as an athlete, a member of the media, and a spectator. I get to talk to more people than the average participant because I'm running around to various events, taking notes and photographs. I got to see a lot of these Games, but never as much as I'd like to.
If you ask the average athlete to grade the Gay Games, they'll give it a pretty good grade. You'd have to work really hard to make 12,000 gay athletes converging on a city not enjoyable. I've taken a look at 11 subjects I think are key to the Games, and given the 2006 installment a grade in each:
Registration was very easy, the volunteers seemed to know what they were doing, and registration flowed quickly. For those who stood in line for an hour, it was their own fault for showing up on Saturday at 3 p.m. I was quite impressed with the organization of registration.
With two-and-a-half years less than usual to prepare, Chicago 2006 did an incredible job of landing sponsors and keeping a steady hand on the budget. Even if they lose a little money, it will be a far cry from the millions that previous Games have lost, and what they accomplished was an incredible feat.
OPENING CEREMONIES: D+
A big-time disclaimer here: I left after Mayor Daley spoke. I was already bored. Jim and I sat there wondering, "why is Megan Mullally not being funny?" As an athlete, I didn't get to see the giant rainbow flag of lights, so I wasn't affected by it. At midnight of the opening night, at the Hilton updating this Web site, I saw the fireworks going off and said, "thank God I left when I did." I heard the last hour was better, but having to sit through the first three hours must have been brutal. It was a sour way to start the week.
GEOGRAPHIC REPRESENTATION: D
We haven't gotten final numbers, but the best estimate is that only 20% of the participants were from outside the U.S. In fact, 20% of the athletes were from the Chicago area alone. Where were all of the Europeans? I have a feeling we'll find them in Montreal.
MY SPORT, FLAG FOOTBALL: B-
This was the event I participated in and the one I saw the most; each athlete's biggest impression of the games comes from their particular sport. There were big problems with the rules (which changed depending on the refs you got) and some of the refs literally telling the players on the field, "I don't care" when they got rules wrong. And some of the rules got changed 20 hours before the tournament began. And the schedule was up to 90 minutes off. But, there was tons of water, an air-conditioned building to rest in, the organizers were very nice, and the tournament was exciting.
I couldn't believe it when I walked into the basketball venue and there was no air conditioning. The track venue didn't have a place from which to toss the hammer, and that event was eventually cancelled. The swimming venue was a far cry from the venue in Sydney. I heard complaints about the softball fields, though I never saw them for myself. Some events (e.g., crew) were far too distant to watch. Even the north campus, at Northwestern, was considered "too far" by virtually everyone I asked. With all that said, I thought the volleyball venue was great.
CITY PRESENCE: D+
It was a couple non-participants who came into Chicago who said to me, "If you didn't know the Gay Games were here, you'd never guess." Traveling around Chicago, there seemed to be no Gay Games presence anywhere. Very few signs. Few banners (that I saw). Even a block from many of the venues, you'd never know there was a big event going on nearby.
MEDIA EXPOSURE: B
Some have criticized the mainstream media for lack of coverage. I disagree. I just don't see the big hook for many newspapers beyond a brief article about a local athlete. Much of the gay media covered the Games as much as you could. Logo, Sirius, and Outsports (if I do say so myself) led the way.
RESULTS REPORTING: B+
A lot of the events were hard to get results for during the week, but most results have been reported and are easily accessible on the Web. That's a big improvement over past Games.
BEYOND THE SPORTS: C-
It was a conscious decision by Chicago 2006 to leave the night-time events to party promoters and bars. It was a decision based on a shortened timeline and a desire to focus on the sports. At the time, I thought it was a good idea. The problem was, at night, we didn't know what to do. The bars in Boys' Town were doing big business, but I was hoping for something more: An athletes' village or some kind of Gay Games-sponsored social event that didn't involve a bar.
There were tons of volunteers, which really helped; it seemed someone in a lime-green shirt was everywhere. The heat was a problem, but that was certainly beyond the control of the organizers.
I'm giving two grades here. The first is what I think the event was: a C+. There were a bunch of problems that we saw or heard about. While they did a lot right, it should and could have been a lot better. On the flip side, I think if they had more time (they had only 30 months to organize this), it could have easily been a B.