September 30, 2010 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Lawsuit says D.C. could still host Gay Games

A Cleveland-based foundation has charged in a lawsuit that leaders of the Gay Games conspired to illegally terminate its contract to operate the 2014 LGBT athletic event in Cleveland and fallout from that action could result in the event being moved to D.C.

In its lawsuit filed Sept. 2, the Cleveland Synergy Foundation charges that the Federation of Gay Games, the City of Cleveland, a top city official and the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission – which had pledged to help promote the event – colluded to breach Synergy’s licensing agreement to operate the games.

“Upon information and belief, FGG has already made inquiry whether the unsuccessful bid organization from Washington, D.C. and Boston would accept the 2014 Gay Games and host these games in their city,” the lawsuit says.

“The license agreement with Synergy, and the enforcement thereof, is critical to the retention of the 2014 Gay Games in the Cities of Cleveland and Akron, as failure to honor the License Agreement requires the award of the 2014 Gay Games to either the second [or] … third place bidder,” the lawsuit says.

At the time the FGG announced last October that it had chosen Cleveland-Akron over D.C. and Boston as the host city for the quadrennial event, it granted D.C. first “runner-up” status and named Boson as the second runner-up city.

In addition to breach of contract and “civil conspiracy,” the lawsuit charges the defendants with defamation, invasion of privacy and portraying Synergy in a “false light” by wrongfully claiming it failed to meet the terms of the licensing agreement.

It also charges that FGG officials are in violation of their own policies and rules by taking steps to find another organization to operate the 2014 games in Cleveland. The lawsuit says the rules were incorporated into the bidding process for the 2014 games and are legally binding on the FGG.

Among other things, the suit claims the rules prohibit the FGG from awarding the licensing agreement to another organization unless that organization submitted a bid for the games during the initial selection process. If the court determines those rules to be binding on the FGG, it would mean Cleveland could not host the games unless Synergy is brought back in as the operator because no other organization in the Cleveland area would be eligible to obtain the license. The Synergy Foundation, an LGBT group, submitted the bid on Cleveland’s behalf.

The Metropolitan Washington Gaymes, Inc., the D.C. LGBT sports coalition that submitted a bid for D.C. to host the games, and a similar group in Boston would be the only two entities allowed to receive the licensing agreement other than Synergy if the court sides with the Synergy Foundation’s contention.

Vince Micone, president of the Metropolitan Washington Gaymes, said the group’s board has obtained a copy of the lawsuit and is observing developments in Cleveland as they unfold. But he said it was too soon for the group to comment on whether the Gay Games should be moved to D.C.

“We’ve taken no position whatsoever on this,” he said. “We just read it with interest as others would. From what we’ve heard from the Federation, we are basically in the status quo.”

In a statement released in August, the FGG said it “ended its relationship with Cleveland Synergy Foundation (CSF), effective 6 July 2010.” Cleveland officials, who noted that the city had agreed to provide funds to help organize the games, said prior to the termination announcement that Cleveland Synergy Foundation had failed to meet a deadline for submitting a required report detailing its progress and use of city funds.

News media reports in Cleveland cited unnamed sources as saying the licensing termination was due, in part, to financial irregularities by Cleveland Synergy.

The lawsuit disputes those allegations, saying Synergy met all of its requirements and that it was the city and the FGG that failed to fulfill their requirements under the licensing agreement.

FGG officials, meanwhile, said their strong intention was to keep the Gay Games in Cleveland and seek out another qualified Cleveland organization to assume the licensing agreement to operate the games.

In August, sources familiar with the FGG said Gay Games leaders decided in a closed meeting in Cologne, Germany to give Cleveland until the end of this year to develop a new group and plan to host the games. If the city isn’t able to complete that process by that time, the FGG would consider offering the games to the runner up city, the sources said.

FGG spokesperson Kelly Stevens said he would make inquires this week with FGG officials in response to a Blade request for comment on the latest developments surrounding the lawsuit.

In a statement released during the week the suit was filed, the FGG said, “The Federation of Gay Games is disappointed with the recent legal challenge by Cleveland Synergy Foundation. The Federation of Gay Games will review this with our attorneys and respond accordingly. The Federation of Gay Games remains committed to Gay Games IX Cleveland 2014.”

Among other things, the lawsuit asks the Cuyahoga County, Ohio, Common Pleas Court for an injunction forcing the FGG to recognize the licensing agreement with Cleveland Synergy as being in full effect.

It also calls for compensatory damages against the FGG and the city “in an amount to be proven at trial” plus interest, fees and possible punitive damages.

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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