While the Gay Games have had lofty goals of bringing the world to China to celebrate the LGBTQ community, the reality is that this is not going to happen. That’s been reality for quite some time.
Now hosting the event in two different cities is risky for an event already facing increasing competition.
For much of the last few years, the Gay Games has watched as the realities of selecting Hong Kong as a host city have grown: the increasing encroachment of Chinese authoritarian rule in Hong Kong, a lack of interest amongst athletes in Hong Kong as a host city, human-rights issues in China, the COVID-19 pandemic, and more.
How can you tell there are problems? Less than two years out, registration for the event is still not open.
There have been calls almost since Hong Kong was named as the host to move the Games, as civil unrest developed in Hong Kong. Various athletes — and even voting members of the Federation of Gay Games — have reached out to me over the last few years to anonymously levy their concerns.
The Gay Games hasn’t been blind to this. They created a back-up plan that included delaying the Games until 2023 (done) and possibly moving the Games all-together.
This latest move — claiming they will host the Games in two different cities — is the latest step before the Hong Kong Games are either canceled all together or reduced to an event that is unrecognizable as the Gay Games.
Given what happened in 2017 with the Outgames — athletes arriving from around the world to find there is no event — the Gay Games will have to make some very serious decisions in the coming weeks and months that could alter the future of the event.
I feel badly for the organizers in Hong Kong, who have approached this with optimism and enthusiasm. The staff and volunteers have spent countless hours trying to bring an LGBTQ event to a city that has never hosted anything like it. Recently the founder of the event, Dennis Philipse, stepped down, further complicating its future.
Yet the writing was on the wall for Hong Kong when organizers told the International Gay and Lesbian Football Association they couldn’t host their world championships in conjunction with the Games — something they had done for decades. In response, the IGLFA last year moved its championships to Sydney and Washington DC, a relationship now badly damaged.
The Gay Games rely in part on international governing bodies organizing world championships at the Gay Games. If that model fails in multiple sports, it will become more than a small headache for the FGG.
Now the realities of the situation have set in. Hong Kong was unfortunately a poor choice to host these Games, and it’s untenable today.
The U.S. State Department currently recommends citizens avoid traveling to Hong Kong — That is not expected to change anytime soon. Particularly with what recently happened to Brittney Griner, I cannot imagine more than a handful of Americans getting on a plane headed to Hong Kong for these Games.
Of course the Gay Games aren’t just about Americans. Athletes in Asia who have never been to the Gay Games before will hope to compete in Hong Kong. Yet Americans and athletes from Western Europe comprise the majority of Gay Games regulars. Losing your base is tough to replace.
Even as LGBTQ sports leagues and events have exploded around the world, the Gay Games’ attendance numbers have declined since the 1990s, a combination of multiple factors.
The format of the Gay Games will likely continue to also be a problem for the event. It’s a week long and costs hundreds of dollars to register; Multi-sport events like the Sin City Classic — which now draws around 8,000 LGBTQ athletes to Las Vegas every year — are a weekend at much less cost. Next year at WorldPride in Sydney there will be a huge multi-sport event as well. More and more events like this seem to be popping up all the time.
Regardless, people love the Gay Games. I love the Gay Games. I’ve been to every one since 2002 — My favorite of them all, in Sydney. The fact that other people are trying to build events like the Gay Games is a powerful form of flattery. The Gay Games have been a success.
Now will Guadalajara save these Gay Games? It’s hard to say.
Organizers will tout the first Gay Games in both Asia and Latin America, which is something to celebrate. Part of the Gay Games mission is to help bring change and understanding — The presence of LGBTQ athletes in these cities can’t hurt.
I’m sure athletes across the Americas will now reconsider these Games, possibly headed to Mexico — just a few hours flight and less expensive — to compete.
Guadalajara’s challenge will be tough but not impossible, with less than two years to put together an event involving thousands of athletes in 30 sports, registration, volunteers, venues. The city has bid for the last two Gay Games, so there is a plan and infrastructure in place. It’s doable.
Next up is the 2026 Gay Games in Valencia, Spain. Like Guadalajara, I’ve heard nothing but good things about the city.
Yet because of some shaky decision-making, the very future of the Gay Games may hang on what happens over the next 18 months.