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LGBT+ History Month: Gay Games 2023 - where it's the taking part that counts

13 Feb 2023 11:35 | Douglas Litwin (Administrator)

This article appeared on on 13 February. To read the entire article there with photos, click HERE.

By Emma Smith

Participation is first, personal best is second.

Welcome to the Gay Games, where anyone can become an athlete and represent their country, no matter their age, gender, athletic skill - or indeed sexuality.

The quadrennial celebration of LGBTQ+ sport and culture returns for its 11th edition from 3-11 November after a 16-month delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

And for the first time in its 41-year history, the event will take place in Asia and Latin America as Hong Kong and the Mexican city of Guadalajara will act as co-hosts.

"Really, it is the LGBTQ+ Games - allies can participate, anyone can take part," Adrian Hyyrylainen-Trett, vice-president of external relations for the Federation of Gay Games, tells BBC Sport.

Launched in San Francisco in 1982, the mission of the Gay Games is to promote equality through sport and culture. Anyone can join in.

"It is a participatory games - participation is first, personal best is second," adds Hyyrylainen-Trett.

"We do have records set, former Olympians who participate, but that is an exception to the rule."

Instead, the Gay Games - initially termed the Gay Olympics before an injunction from the US Olympic Committee over the use of the word 'Olympic' forced a change of name - aims to provide a place for people to play sport in what is an increasingly hostile environment.

The Gay Games features sports not seen in the Olympics, such as ballroom dancing

We have to be realistic, there are a lot of world crises

From the 2022 World Cup, where issues from the illegality of homosexuality in Qatar and the scrapping of the OneLove armband created a macabre sideshow to the football, to the scramble of sports governing bodies to bring in new rules or categories for transgender athletes, sport in 2023 is a difficult place to be for many LGBTQ+ people.

In the Gay Games there are no qualifying categories and the sports have rankings in which a person can select the level at which they want to compete.

In squash, for example, there are four skill levels: advanced and elite, good, recreational or beginner.

For gendered competitions, those taking part can self-identify into whichever category they feel most comfortable.

There are some competitive sports - swimming, for example, has world records available as it is a World Aquatics-recognised event - but it's mostly about taking part.

And it's because of this that the Gay Games has grown to have more participants than even the Olympics, with more than 10,000 people taking part in the event in Paris 2018.

Hyyrylainen-Trett anticipates lower numbers this time around, though, with sports split over the two host countries. Just six of the 32 events will take place in both Hong Kong and Guadalajara: badminton, swimming, marathon, road running, tennis and track and field.

"There will be a mixture of some sports - hockey will be in Hong Kong for example, powerlifting in Guadalajara.

"We are conscious numbers will be different, and probably lower. We have to be realistic, there are a lot of crises in the world. This is not a cheap adventure either, we are wary of cost as well."

It's a feeling of nervousness and excitement

But Hyyrylainen-Trett believes this could be the most diverse Gay Games yet, thanks to it being hosted in two new continents, along with initiatives such as a scholarship the Games run in Congo to enable more African athletes to compete.

Hosting in Asia and Latin America for the first time will broaden what has for four decades been a largely US-centric event.

Five of the 10 Games so far have been held in the United States, while the 1990 event was hosted by Vancouver, Canada. The only Gay Games to take place outside Europe or North America to date was in Sydney in 2002.

"The point of the Games is to branch out. It is important that we strive to take the Games elsewhere," he says.

Hyyrylainen-Trett knows the Games as well as anyone, having taken part in the event at Cologne 2010 and Paris 2018.

These are the first Games he has helped organise.

"It's a feeling of nervousness and excitement," he says, with the event now nine months away.

"We are sad we couldn't have them for the 40th anniversary in 2022, due to extraordinary global circumstances. That's why we have a unique and significant co-hosting arrangement for 2023."

The 2022 event was due to take place solely in Hong Kong, but because of the ongoing challenges of the pandemic and the political unrest with neighbouring China, a co-host was sought. Guadalajara - which came second to both Hong Kong in the 2022 bid and to Valencia for the 2026 event - was called in to help host the Games.

"The Hong Kong Covid restrictions were still in place travel-wise up to December, and we have to plan 365 days ahead," explains Hyyrylainen-Trett.

"Guadalajara have been up there, they have been ready. They have the facilities, they have the ability to pull this off in a much shorter time period.

"Most cities have four years, Guadalajara has 15 months. It's a big ask, but we recognise their ability to pull this out the hat. From both sides, both cities, there is a big desire to make this work."

A total of 1,350 people took part in the first Gay Games in 1982. Yet as the event's reach continues to grow, Hyyrylainen-Trett is focused on ensuring the ethos remains the same.

"There is music, cheerleading, dancing - but sport is the fundamental part," he says.

"I am hoping both cities are able to pull this unique arrangement off - it will be a challenge."

© 2020 The Federation of Gay Games

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