Gay Games XI will open this weekend in Hong Kong and Guadalajara, Mexico, in a first-ever multi-city Gay Games. The events have faced different challenges over the last few years, resulting in a low level of interest and historically low registration numbers.
As reported to Outsports last week, the registration numbers for Hong Kong were 2,381, and for Guadalajara 2,462. They will each individually be the smallest-scale Gay Games since the first event in San Francisco in 1982. The combined total of under 5,000 is by far the lowest since 1986.
That’s sad, but given the FGG’s decision in 2017, totally predictable.
Due to the low numbers, some of the grand plans presented for hosting the Games in both locations — including venues — have been scrapped. Plus, some sports have been canceled.
Gay Games XI — which had been delayed from last year — has been plagued by the original decision by the Federation of Gay Games to host the event in Hong Kong, where human rights violations, and a hungry Chinese government looking to gobble up the then-city-state, loomed. The COVID-19 pandemic originating in China only exacerbated that choice.
That has proven deeply problematic, as the Hong Kong organizing committee this week has been forced — amidst calls to cancel the Games all together due to the presence of LGBT advocacy in China — to say they would not advocate for LGBT rights.
“Our aim is not to advocate for any specific political or legislative changes but to provide a platform for sports, arts, and culture that promotes inclusivity and diversity,” they said.
Still, I can appreciate the underlying effort. The Gay Games tried to, by hosting these Games in China, help elevate the profile of the LGBT community in Asia.
Yet I’m afraid the stifling of voices by the Chinese media, as well as the government there keeping the event in check and at arm’s length, will limit that substantially. That remains to be seen.
Organizers in Guadalajara have, sadly, been some of the victims here. As disaster loomed for Hong Kong, the FGG asked them to create a second event, and do it in 18 months.
It’s literally unheard of for a quadrennial event. When the Gay Games had to move in 2006, Chicago was awarded their games 28 months ahead of time with a huge public-profile advantage.
Those games drew over 11,000 participants.
This Gay Games’ foray into the anti-LGBT waters of China, and the short-shrift waters of Mexico, have proved problematic.
A dynamic Outsports has preached for years is that the attendance-levels of the Gay Games, as well as a few quirks and missteps here and there, don’t determine the experience of the participants.
That may still be true.
Yet that never took into account an event with just over 2,000 participants spread across 30 sports, where some races or competitions won’t have enough competitors to round out a three-medal podium.
This all has begged the question: What are the Gay Games? It’s something that has popped up in my conversations ad nauseam over the last year.
Is the Gay Games a massive LGBT sporting event, or can it be more quaint? When the Outgames had only about 2,000 registrants in 2017, they infamously canceled the entire event the day before it was supposed to start. Is a 2,000-person Gay Games still the Gay Games?
Many people I’ve spoken to have told me the same thing: No.
The U.S. State Department is even issuing travel guidelines for the Games in Guadalajara.
And if organizers feel hamstrung about what they can say and how the Games can advocate for LGBT rights in the local community?
For an event that claims to be “The Games that change the world,” that seems tough.
The next Gay Games will be held in Valencia, Spain. Americans — who routinely make up a massive portion of participants — couldn’t point out Valencia on a map of Spain, let alone Europe (though to be fair, many of them couldn’t point out Spain either).
Will people attend regardless? Spain is a lovely country, full of culture and topographical beauty. I’m inclined to go.
Yet the Gay Games now has an identity crisis of its own making.