Organizers of the forthcoming Hong Kong Gay Games have reacted coolly to an unexpected statement from the city’s government urging them “to observe laws and regulations”.
The statement was issued to media outlets on Thursday, a day after GGHK provided a press release about venues, performers, medal designs, mascot Sunny the Lion, and other new information.
Monday marks the 41st anniversary of the beginning of the first-ever Gay Games, held in San Francisco in 1982.
The 11th edition of the inclusive multisports event, rescheduled from its original 2022 date because of the Covid-19 pandemic, is due to start in Hong Kong and Guadalajara on Nov. 3.
In its release, GGHK confirmed that the 3,500-seater indoor Queen Elizabeth Stadium will host the Games’ opening and closing ceremonies, the martial arts and dodgeball competitions, and gala concerts.
Nine other venues were listed in the release, including the new MacPherson Stadium, the KGV School and Kowloon Junior School.
When local media submitted enquiries about the venue choices to government officials, they were told: “The Gay Games is hosted by a community organisation. Many of its events will be held in private venues.
“The government has reminded the organiser to observe the laws and regulations in Hong Kong, regardless of whether the events are held in private venues or not.
“Some events may even require licences and permits to be applied for from relevant departments… Subject to the details of the event, additional requirements including crowd control and safety measures will be imposed as necessary.”
In an op-ed published on Outsports in June, five activists called for Gay Games XI to be staged solely in Guadalajara, citing concerns such as the “vagueness” of Hong Kong’s National Security Law and fears that holding the event there would “legitimize the city’s authoritarian government”.
However, GGHK organizers have told the Hong Kong Free Press that they do not interpret the most recent government statement as any sort of warning.
“As we have said all along, as any responsible organisation and event organiser would do, we will of course comply with all laws in Hong Kong.
“We have no problem with that at all. Our overriding goal is to deliver a safe, welcoming, joyous, diverse and inclusive event that will reflect positively on Hong Kong.
“Hong Kong is consistently rated as one of the world’s safest cities. We see no reason why this would change before, during or after our event.”
Organizers in Hong Kong say they are planning for 2,000 athletes from 40 countries to participate in November.
Several sports were removed from the GGHK program in June. The official website currently lists 17 competitions, including four different racquet sports; four athletics disciplines; categories within swimming, sea sports, mat sports and ball games; and a mahjong tournament.
The original Gay Games 41 years ago had 1,350 competitors and was attended by an estimated 10,000 people overall.
The instigator was Tom Waddell, who had finished sixth in the decathlon at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. His idea was to create a ‘Gay Olympics’ as a way to break down stereotypes about sexuality.
He had lived in San Francisco since 1974 and with its large LGBTQ community, it was the obvious location for the first event — but just a few weeks before the chosen start date of Aug. 28, 1982, the U.S. Olympic Committee sought and obtained an injunction preventing use of the word ‘Olympic’.
A swift rebrand to the ‘Gay Games’ was enacted, and in his opening address, Waddell said: “These Gay Games, the first of their kind, are offered to Gay and enlightened people from all over the world.
“They are a departure from other events of this scope and magnitude in that the underlying philosophy is one of self-fulfillment and a spirit of friendship.”
The Games were a success. Tina Turner performed at the opening ceremony, and although crowds watching the 16 sporting competitions were initially thin, they picked up as the local community learned more through articles in the Bay Area Reporter and word of mouth.
The closing ceremony is said to have attracted at least 6,000 spectators, and when the Games returned to San Francisco for its second edition in 1986, the number of competing athletes rose to around 3,500.
As for the Hong Kong Gay Games, participation is one of several areas of uncertainty, with less than 10 weeks to go until Nov. 3.