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‘Distressed and disgusted’: LGBT athletes pissed after OutGames canceled with no notice

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‘I’m suing you, World OutGames,’ a bodybuilder said.

The Out Games athlete pickup area was a mess on Friday, the day the event was supposed to start.

It was bad enough that the organizers of the World OutGames in Miami canceled the event citing financial difficulties, leaving hundreds of athletes in the lurch. What was most galling, athletes say, was that the event was canceled the day of the opening ceremonies when most athletes had already arrived.

Late Friday, Miami Beach Police and the Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office opened a fraud investigation, Miami New Times reported. Along with official inquiries, other athletes are threatening to take legal action.

“I’m suing you, World OutGames,” Spanish bodybuilder Diego Lopez said in a YouTube video. “Are they going to return my registration fee, my flight fee, my hotel fees, my training fees, my coach fees, my food fees?”

Lopez had not yet left his home, which is more than many athletes could say. Many had arrived and planned stays as long as a week, incurring air, hotel and food costs. Athletes who had traveled from Mexico were furious since for many of them, getting a visa was a hassle.

“So far, [soccer] is supposed to remain unchanged,” said Nicolas Pineda, administrator of the Mexican soccer team Zorros. “However, we have athletes that would compete in athletics and whose sports tests have been canceled, we are all very distressed and disgusted with this decision of the organizers and of course.

“Even if our competition will be realized, we want to show our solidarity with the athletes and complete teams that come from all over the world from as far afield as Belgium, Australia, Spain, etc. We have spent more than $15,000 in total to take 17 players to the event, including airfare, lodging, visas and passports, including visas that were denied to some of our athletes."

Zorros had used crowdsourcing to raise money for their trip, which showed how much this event meant to them and how financially difficult it was to pull off.

While soccer, which is being run as the international LGBT soccer tournament by the International Gay and Lesbian Football Assn., was still on, there were questions about whether the event would need to be scaled back. One organizer said that IGLFA was counting on the OutGames for logistical support, such as referee fees and transportation.

Swimming and water polo, being run by the International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics, was still a go, but even there issues arose.

Swimmer Corey Welch, who sounded the alarm over the OutGames lack of transparency and preparedness months ago, said even the aquatics events were affected.

“We were relying on them for a lot,” he emailed Outsports. “They were supposed to supply all the volunteers (mainly timers), they were supposed to buy lane lines (they borrowed some from a local university, but are the wrong size so we are scrambling to find replacements), one of their staff members are holding our water polo balls ransom because they were never paid, so we will have to play with old warm practice balls.

“They were supposed to have tents for shade at the pools, but don't so we are all pulling together to try to find all these things with start time of the meet in less than an hour. We have a lot of issues, but are going to do our best to put together the best competition we can under the circumstances.”

Basketball is one sport that will go on, though in a modified form, thanks to organizers for the National Gay Basketball Assn.

“The NGBA was able to ensure players traveling to the Out Games were able to play this weekend,” member Mark Chambers said. “It will only be a two-day event, but the players from Sydney, Mexico, Atlanta and SoCal will be able to play. Jason Jaramillo was able to secure a gym for the games and NGBA is providing financial assistance for the tournament.”

One athlete detailed what he saw late this afternoon in Miami, in an email to Outsports:

“We went to the Lowes hotel, the sight of the human rights conference, which was empty. We were told two days ago that athletes had to pick up their credentials on Thursday or Friday now and could do so until 5:30 at the Lowes hotel.

“When we got to the hotel there was a sign saying athlete items were over at the OutGames Headquarters. There was a small room with a handful of volunteers giving out credentials and t-shirts and a gift bag. They have a big colorful brochure and in it they list all the athletes for all events. The half/full marathon only had 45 athletes listed, the 5K/10K had 55 athletes listed.

“While we were picking up our stuff we mentioned we were with the half marathon. One of the organizers said they were going to still try to pull off the half/full marathon on Sunday and that their board was meeting tonight to try and make it happen. I told them they were out of their minds; we were leaving early because of the fiasco, and no one trusts a single thing they say now.

“I said don't get anyone's hopes up or tell anyone you will still try to have it — and that they better focus instead on giving refunds to people. He had said if there was money to refund, and I said no, you will be refunding athletes, and in fact we're filling with our credit card companies for refunds for fraud and breach of contract. He had a worried look on his face. I also said don't be surprised when you are sued.

“We met athletes from Team Germany when we were leaving. Some were crying and they were just too upset. I can tell you they said for most of them this is their first time in the United States and they had been planning on these games for years. They are completely upset with all the money, time and training spent to get here to have the games canceled. Part of their group arrived today and the rest are still on the way here.”

The OutGames Facebook page had more than 200 comments, all expressing disgust and shock at the cancellation. One athlete commented, “I spent $6,000 coming from Australia. I have planned this trip for 2 years wtf.”

“On behalf of the Miami Beach LGBTQ rank and file community, not any club, or organization, I have to say that I am truly ashamed of this, and quite honestly how "SKETCHY" this is,” read another comment. “For those who have traveled from afar I can only hope you find ways to enjoy our city, and hope the experience does not ruin your opinion of Miami Beach.”

Some in the Miami LGBT community tried to make amends. The Hotel Gaythering, a gay hotel in Miami Beach, was offering “registered folks comp drinks, sauna access & shuttles to Haulover Nude Beach everyday through June 4,” one athlete tweeted to Outsports.

The most troubling aspect in this fiasco is that the issues did not suddenly crop up. Miami New Times has an excellent analysis of the warnings that were there, while noting that Miami Beach taxpayers are out at least $200,000. An audit will be conducted by the city.

My main question: No one cancels an event literally opening day without there being serious problems. Why not cancel it a week earlier, when at least people could have had hotel fees refunded and not already gotten on a plane?

This is the end of the OutGames as an event, but not the end of troubles for the organizers who screwed up royally and gave the LGBT sports community a huge black eye.