Gay Games swimmers embrace at the 2018 edition of the quadrennial event in Paris. | Geoffroy van der Hasselt / AFP via Getty Images

After the turmoil of the last Gay Games cycle led to low numbers and joint hosts, many were anticipating a less-stressful journey heading into the next edition of the LGBTQ multisport event in 2026.

However, an escalating rift in Valencia has now developed into a full-blown split. Although the Games are still set to go ahead in Spain’s third-biggest city, uncertainties are creeping in.

On Monday night, the Valencia Diversitat Foundation (FVD) and its three member groups — Lambda, Avegal and Dracs — pulled out of the executive and organizing committees en masse, claiming the city council is “hijacking” the Gay Games.

The row had been brewing for almost a year. Back in May 2023, the regional and local elections were won by the conservative People’s Party (PP), resulting in María José Catalá becoming Mayor of Valencia.

But having only gained a slim majority, her government was soon entering into a coalition with the far-right VOX party, which opposes equal marriage and gender self-ID legislation.

If that pact set alarm bells ringing among LGBTQ groups in Valencia, the lack of harmony became even more obvious in March when the city council announced changes to the structure of the Gay Games 2026 committee, leaving those groups with less votes.

They demanded a return to the previous structure, while the Federation of Gay Games attempted to mediate in a bid to keep everyone at the table, saying at the time that it was “essential” to have both the local government and the local LGBTQ groups “involved and represented.”

However, a little over two months later, the LGBTQ groups have chosen to walk away.

As reported by Spanish newspaper El Salto, their decision was due to “the kidnapping of the project organization by the Valencia City Council and the Generalitat Valenciana, governed by the Popular Party and Vox.”

The dispute goes beyond just the committee voting structure. FVD secretary Jorge Garcia stated: “After the last local elections, the Popular Party and Vox have promoted an entire campaign of attacks and cuts in rights against members of the group.

“We have seen how children’s books were withdrawn or plays and films were canceled simply for addressing LGTBI themes or for showing people from the group.”

Garcia also accused Mayor Catalá of “pinkwashing” and claimed the forthcoming annual Pride march through the city in late June would be a clear demonstration of this.

In its lengthy statement Monday, the FGG said it “deeply regrets… but respectfully accepts” the local LGBTQ groups’ withdrawal.

While acknowledging the groups’ concerns, and the “ongoing erosion of LGBTQ+ rights and funding… occurring throughout the world,” the Federation said it nonetheless retained confidence in Valencia’s current city council.

“The FGG has met various times with them to gain assurances about their commitment to the funding of the event, the availability of government-owned sports and culture venues, and the confirmation that participants will be able to attend and compete as their authentic selves.

“We are confident that the City Council is willing to support the event adequately and as agreed in our original discussions with the previous city council and local government.”

However, the scale of the split runs deep. The FVD has even called for “a boycott of the event at the local, national and international level” should it go ahead in Valencia, as reported by Las Provincias.

They have suggested an alternative, saying the FGG should explore “the possibility of moving the event to any other city that is more respectful of LGTBIQ+ rights, such as Munich, which at the time already presented itself as a candidate and has shown interest in hosting the Games.”

The decision to award these Games was taken back in November 2021; the two bidding cities that lost out were Munich and Guadalajara. The latter ended up co-hosting the delayed Games last year with Hong Kong

Despite all this, the FGG insists it will be sticking with Valencia for 2026.

“Having worked alongside the local community for a number of years, we know our event holds immense significance to them and local businesses, as well as across Spain and Europe,” it said.

“Our other stakeholders, including athletes, sponsors, Spanish LGBTQ+ sports teams and other community members, also remain firmly committed to the event.”

That may be true for now — but with two years still to go until the opening ceremony, further pressure points are inevitable.

And is it even possible to stage the Gay Games in a city in which the local LGBTQ groups are not supportive?

Challenges related to having Hong Kong as hosts and then Guadalajara as co-hosts were considerable but hard-working organizers on the ground in both cities got the event over the line.

It looks like Valencia 2026 is not going to have that same kind of community support — and that could mean this becomes the most troubled Games to date.