What are the Gay Games?
The Gay Games are the largest sporting event in the world open to all. Unlike the Olympic Games, they enable people from all walks of life to compete against each other regardless of skill level, age or physical challenge.
The first Gay Games took place in 1982 in San Francisco, bringing together 1,350 athletes from a dozen countries. The Games have been held every four years since in world-class cities. Gay Games VIII in Cologne in 2010 attracted over 10,000 participants from some 70 countries.
The Gay Games are the legacy of Dr. Tom Waddell, a decathlon competitor for the U.S. in the 1968 Olympics. Waddell conceived of the Games as an opportunity for gays and lesbians to show the world that their skills and competitive spirit were equal to the rest of humanity. He wanted to promote better understanding through sport.
The Games define winning as achieving one’s personal best. Anyone can participate, regardless of ability, age, sexual orientation, race, gender, nationality, political or religious beliefs, ethnic origins, or HIV status. Athletes represent their cities and not their countries.
The Federation of Gay Games (FGG) is the umbrella organisation responsible for managing the pre-eminent international LGBT sports and cultural event, the quadrennial Gay Games. Dr. Tom Waddell, a 1968 U.S. Olympic decathlete, envisioned the dream of a multi-sport competition as a showcase for the gay and lesbian community, and in 1982 he and others in San Francisco established the Gay Games as an Olympic-style event. That year, 1,350 participants from 12 countries gathered in late August to compete in 17 sports. The world of LGBT athletics was changed forever as participants returned to their cities and countries, inspired by Gay Games I to establish local clubs for year-round training and competition.
The FGG is a California-based non-profit corporation. Its General Assembly includes sports and culture organisations from every continent.
Additional detail is provided in the Member Handbook and Volunteer Handbook.
How many people participate in the Gay Games?
Since 1994, each Gay Games has drawn 10,000-12,000 participants. That is comparable to the Summer Olympics. The Gay Games are one of the world’s largest amateur athletic events, and the largest event open to all adults. Gay Games VIII in Cologne in 2010 attracted some 10,000 participants from about 70 countries. Gay Games VII in Chicago in 2006 attracted 11,500 participants from 70 countries. Gay Games VI in Sydney Australia in 2002 attracted 12,100 participants. Information about Gay Games I to Gay Games VI is available here.
What is the mission of the Federation of Gay Games?
The mission of the Federation of Gay Games is to promote equality through the organization of the premiere international LGBT and gay-friendly sports and cultural event known as the Gay Games.
Less succinctly, according to its bylaws:
The purpose of The Federation of Gay Games shall be to foster and augment the self-respect of gay men and women throughout the world and to engender respect and understanding from the non-gay world, primarily through an organized, international athletic and cultural event held every four years commonly known as the ‘Gay Games.’ Following the Federation’s guiding principle of inclusion, activities shall be inclusive in nature and no individual shall be excluded from participating on the basis of sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, nationality, ethnic origin, political belief(s), athletic/artistic ability, age, physical challenge, or health status.
What impact do the Gay Games have on athletes and cultural participants?
For more than two decades, supporters of the Gay Games have brought together thousands of athletes every four years to show the world their pride, their poise and their passion. Every four years Gay Games participants converge to celebrate the empowerment of individual achievement and the triumph of collective cooperation. A primary legacy of the Gay Games has been the athletes and artists themselves, enabling the genesis of countless LGBT athletic and cultural organisations.
The Gay Games have always worked for and are committed to social activism through sports and culture. Creating safe opportunities for LGBT persons to participate in sports and culture is where the Gay Games (and the FGG) have had their biggest impact. The Gay Games is primarily designed to empower the participants, but certainly the great social legacy the Gay Games has had is in the moulding of perceptions.
Who leads the Federation of Gay Games?
The board of the FGG is elected by the delegates in its General Assembly. The General Assembly brings together delegates from the member organisations of the FGG. The annual meeting of the General Assembly usually takes place in October or November, and it is there that the members of the Assembly elect the Federation’s officers (directors)
Who can participate in the Gay Games?
“The Gay Games are not separatist, they are not exclusive, they are not oriented to victory, and they are not for commercial gain,” wrote Dr. Tom Waddell after the first Gay Games. “They intended to bring a global community together in friendship, to experience participation, to elevate consciousness and self-esteem, and to achieve a form of cultural and intellectual synergy. We have the opportunity to take the initiative on critical issues that affect the quality of life.” Anyone can participate in the Gay Games.
The world took notice of the Gay Games. As the conservative Vancouver newspaper The Province editorialized before the opening of Gay Games III, “Almost a year ago, we called these Gay Games ‘silly.’ What’s next? we asked. What, we queried, does sexual orientation have to do with the high jump? Since then, we’ve been educated. We’ve learned that these games are intended to build bridges, strengthen community and bolster self-esteem. Members of groups that bear the brunt of society’s ignorance and fear need to make special efforts to support each other. And sometimes they need to stand up and be counted.”
Twenty-five years later, from San Francisco to Vancouver to New York to Amsterdam to Sydney and next to Chicago, the Gay Games still change the world one athlete and one attitude at a time.
Participants have described the Gay Games as a positive life-altering experience. As the quote above from the Vancouver newspaper indicates, the Gay Games change perceptions for the better.
Who is eligible to join the General Assembly of the Federation of Gay Games?
Full Member Organisations include International Sport Organisations, a Multi-Sport Regional (or Local) Organisations, and Cultural Organisations. Associate Member Organisations include Single-Sport Regional (or Local) Organisations and Cultural Organisations, as well as organisations that do not satisfy all criteria for Full Member Organisation status or that wish to apply for Associate Member status. When they join the FGG they agree to:
- Assist the Federation in delivering the Gay Games and fulfilling its mission – see above
- Pay annual dues (USD 200 for Member Organisations, USD 100 for Associate Members – reductions for organisations from developing nations)
- Register your organisation’s nonprofit status with appropriate units of government and maintain that status
- Strongly promote the Gay Games by including a web banner for the FGG and the current Gay Games host on your website as well as a link to the websites for both organisations.
Only Full Member Organisations which have had one or more registered delegates present at the prior Annual General Assembly meeting or at two of the past three Annual General Assembly meetings and whose dues are fully paid shall be authorized to vote on Gay Games site selection matters.
Can elite athletes participate in the Gay Games?
The Gay Games are open to anyone regardless of ability. The following are elite athletes who have competed in the Gay Games.
- Judith Arndt, world champion and Olympic silver medal cyclist, Germany
- Bruce Hayes, Olympic gold medal swimmer, U.S.
- Greg Louganis, five-time Olympic medalist for diving, U.S.
- Leigh-Ann Naidoo, Olympic beach volleyball player, South Africa
- Petra Rössner, Olympic gold medal cyclist, Germany
- Michelle Ferris, Olympic silver medal cyclist, Australia
- Ji Wallace, Olympic trampoline silver medalist, Australia
Chris Morgan, a world champion drug-free powerlifter from the UK, got his competitive start in the Gay Games and has gone on to win world championship titles in his sport, and widespread acceptance in his community.
When and where are the Gay Games held?
The Gay Games are held every four years and are held in the bidding city that wins the complex and exhaustive site selection process.
- Gay Games I, Challenge ‘82, was held in San Francisco, California USA
- Gay Games II, Triumph ‘86, was also held in San Francisco, California USA
- Gay Games III, Celebration ‘90, was held in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canaada
- Gay Games IV, Unity ’94, was held in New York, New York USA
- Gay Games V, Friendship ’98, was held in Amsterdam, The Netherlands
- Gay Games VI, Under New Skies, was held in 2002 in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
- Gay Games VII, Where the World Meets, was held in 2006 in Chicago, Illinois, USA
- Gay Games VIII, Be Part of It, was held in Cologne, Germany in 2010
- Gay Games 9 will be held in Cleveland+Akron, Ohio USA in 2014
Since 1994, each Gay Games has drawn an average of more than 10,000 participants. That is comparable to the Summer Olympics. The Gay Games are one of the world’s largest amateur athletic events, and are likely the largest competitive international sports and culture event open to all.
Gay Games VIII in Cologne in 2010 attracted over 10,000 participants from about 70 countries. Gay Games VII in Chicago in 2006 attracted 11,500 participants from 70 countries. Gay Games VI in Sydney Australia in 2002 attracted 12,100 participants.
How do the Gay Games differ from other tournaments?
The Gay Games change political culture by challenging sports bodies, media and governments to create more opportunities for athletes regardless of sex, age or physical challenge.
A few historical highlights:
- HIV/AIDS. In 1994 the Games achieved a political milestone, convincing the U.S. Attorney General to allow HIV-infected individuals to enter the U.S. for Gay Games IV without special visas. The Designated Event Status (DES) draws attention to the ramifications of national policies restricting travel by AIDS-affected individuals. The Federation of Gay Games and CGI won that DES designation for the 2006 Chicago Gay Games. In sports that require drug testing, the FGG has worked with LGBT sports leaders to develop anti-doping policies that allow for athletes on banned medications. The FGG has recently adopted a Charter on HIV and Sport.
- Gender. The Gay Games have offered women’s wrestling since 1994: 10 years before the Athens Olympic Games. The Games offer 10 weight classes for women; the Olympics offer just four.
- Homophobia. Olympic champion diver Greg Louganis came out of the closet during the Opening Ceremonies of Gay Games IV, the same year the USOC gave him its highest award. In his acceptance speech, Louganis dedicated his award to Tom Waddell and successfully lobbied to prevent the 1996 Olympic volleyball competition from being held in homophobic Cobb County, Georgia.
- Ageism. Recognizing that seniors over 50 are forecast to be 25 percent of the LGBT community by 2020, the Chicago Gay Games added new age categories in such sports as basketball, softball, volleyball and wrestling. These are in addition to the many Gay Games sports which already have age categories including aquatics, cycling, figure-skating, physique, power lifting, racquetball, road racing, tennis, track and field, and triathlon.
- Gender. Gay Games policies for including transgendered athletes in 2002 set the tone for the Olympics and others to follow.