July 29, 2010 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Could 2014 Gay Games move to runner-up D.C.?

The international LGBT sports organization that chose Cleveland over D.C. to host the 2014 Gay Games says it’s engaging in “sensitive discussions” with a Cleveland-based foundation that reportedly has faltered in its role of coordinating the quadrennial event.

In a cautiously worded statement issued July 23, the Federation of Gay Games said it was “cooperating with its Cleveland partners” and would make “any further announcements” about the status of the 2014 games following meetings in Germany in August.

The statement said the FGG board and Membership Assembly “must now turn our full attention to supporting our colleagues in Germany as we all celebrate the 2010 Gay Games in Cologne,” which begin Saturday.

The statement follows reports that FGG took steps earlier this month to revoke the license it awarded last fall to the Cleveland Synergy Foundation, a non-profit group that submitted the winning bid for Cleveland and nearby Akron, Ohio to host the 2014 Gay Games.

Kelly Stevens, the FGG’s communications officer, told the Blade this week that the FGG would have no further comment on any aspect of its discussions with the Synergy Foundation until after its meetings in Cologne. He also declined to comment on whether the FGG would consider moving the 2014 Gay Games to D.C. if developments in Cleveland deteriorated to the point where it would be impractical to stage the event there.

The Synergy Foundation fueled speculation about a conflict with the FGG when it suggested in a July 19 statement that the FGG may not have followed proper procedures in beginning the process to terminate its license.

“As outlined in the mutually endorsed agreement, this process should begin with a meeting of the two groups’ steering committees,” says the statement. “If that meeting leaves questions unanswered, the groups’ boards of directors are then required to meet. Only if those first two meetings result in an impasse would mediation [be] an appropriate third step, according to the agreement.”

A letter sent to Synergy Foundation by the head of Cleveland’s Department of Economic Development, which has pledged to help finance the 2014 Gay Games, says the FGG has begun the license revocation process and scheduled a 14-day mediation period aimed at resolving “issues” between the two groups.

Stevens told the Blade he could not comment on the outcome of the mediation.

“There will be a general report explaining the status of the 2014 games when we complete our meetings in Cologne,” he said. “We can’t get into further details now.”

Officials with the Metropolitan Washington Gaymes, Inc., the non-profit coalition of LGBT sports groups that submitted a bid to hold the 2014 games in D.C., have said they were designated as the “runner up” venue to host the games should problems arise with Cleveland.

Gay People’s Chronicle, an LGBT newspaper in the Cleveland area, has reported that “financial irregularities and reporting issues” appear to be the reason the FGG has taken steps to revoke Synergy’s license to organize and run the 2014 Gay Games.

In the letter to Synergy, Traci Nichols, director of the Cleveland Department of Economic Development, said the office had suspended its approval of $38,000 to help finance a contingent of Synergy staffers to travel to Cologne to promote the 2014 Games in Cleveland.

As part of Synergy’s bid to operate the games, Cleveland’s mayor and City Council agreed to contribute at least $700,000 in city funds to help finance the games. LGBT sports observers have said the prospects of holding the games in Cleveland would be seriously jeopardized if the city withheld those funds.

Others familiar with the situation, including high-level city officials in Cleveland, have pledged to set up a new entity to organize and operate the games if the FGG revokes Synergy Foundation’s license.

In a statement released July 30, Synergy Foundation founder Jeff Axberg says his “organization licensed to produce the 2014 Gay Games” remains committed to ensuring that the games remain “an event created by the LGBT community.”

Axberg could not be immediately reached to determine whether he was suggesting that removing Synergy as the coordinator of the games in Cleveland would put the event in the hands of a non-gay entity, such as a city agency.

Axberg’s statement also noted that Synergy was sending its own representatives to Cologne, apparently at its own expense.

“In accordance with the rights and privileges afforded to the Cleveland Synergy Foundation through its licensing agreement with the Federation of Gay Games, we are very honored to send a delegation of four members of our Board of Directors to receive the Federation of Gay Games Flag during the Cologne Gay Games’ closing ceremony,” says the statement. “We very much look forward to helping make the 2014 Gay Games a tremendous success.”

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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