A lawsuit filed last fall by a Cleveland-based foundation contesting a decision by leaders of the Gay Games to terminate its contract to operate the 2014 LGBT athletic event is scheduled to go to trial July 25.
A spokesperson for the Federation of Gay Games said the organization remains hopeful that a settlement can be reached with the Cleveland Synergy Foundation before the start of the trial.
But the spokesperson, Kelley Stevens, said plans for the quadrennial LGBT sports competition are moving forward and the group is confident the Gay Games will take place in the Cleveland-Akron area as scheduled in the summer of 2014.
“Because there’s a completely different entity running the plans for the 2014 games, they’re not spending any of their time on this,” he said, referring to the lawsuit. “So things are moving ahead as planned.”
The Cleveland Synergy Foundation charges in its lawsuit that the FGG, the City of Cleveland, a high-level city official, and the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission conspired to illegally terminate its contract to operate the 2014 games. The Sports Commission is a non-gay organization that initially pledged to help the Synergy Foundation promote the games.
The lawsuit asks a judge with the Cuyahoga County, Ohio, Court of Common Pleas to force the FGG to reinstall Synergy Foundation as the operator of the games. 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.
The FGG says it terminated the agreement because Synergy failed to fulfill its obligations under the terms of the agreement. It says it acted legally because the agreement included a provision allowing the FGG to invoke a termination provision for non-fulfillment of the contract.
In October, the FGG announced it was replacing Synergy with a newly formed non-profit organization called the Cleveland Special Events Group Corp. through an exclusive licensing agreement. The group consists of LGBT and non-LGBT organizations and individuals from the Cleveland area.
Richard Haber, the attorney representing Cleveland Synergy Foundation, said the new entity appears to be a front group for the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, which he said has emerged as the “behind the scenes” operator of the Gay Games.
He said testimony in depositions given as part of the lawsuit shows that the Sports Commission and Cleveland city official Valerie McCall from the mayor’s office are actually running games operations.
According to Haber, this appears to violate the Gay Games’ longstanding policy of having an LGBT organization in the host city operate the games. The Sports Commission clearly is not an LGBT organization, he said.
Stevens said such a claim doesn’t merit a comment from the FGG.
“I’m not going to comment on the Cleveland Synergy Foundation’s claims,” he said. “They’ve got a lot of claims. So I’m not going to comment on what they think.”
In a competitive bidding process held in 2009, the FGG awarded the games contract to Cleveland Synergy on behalf of the City of Cleveland. The group won the contract over competing bids submitted by LGBT sports groups from D.C. and Boston.
The D.C. group, Metropolitan Washington Gaymes, Inc., has said the FGG’s subsequent decision to oust Cleveland Synergy from operating the games meant that the games should go to D.C., which had been picked as the first runner up for the games.
FGG officials dispute Washington Gaymes’ interpretation of the bidding process, saying the FGG has authority to keep the games in Cleveland even though it was forced to oust Synergy Foundation as the operator of the Gay Games.
Meanwhile, in its court filings and depositions, Cleveland Synergy says it has uncovered e-mails and accounts of private conversations among Cleveland Sports Commission officials making anti-gay remarks and jokes about gays.
Haber said the findings, uncovered during the lawsuit’s discovery process, show that a historically LGBT-run sporting event may now be in the hands of a straight organization whose leaders are, at best, insensitive, to the LGBT community.
Cyd Zeigler, editor and publisher of the blog Out Sports, said he doubts that any of this will make a difference to the overwhelming majority of the 15,000 LGBT athletes expected to turn out for the Gay Games in Cleveland. FGG officials say a combined total of more than 50,000 people are expected to either participate in or attend the 2014 Gay Games.
“Why would anyone care whether the Gay Games are organized by a bunch of gay people or a bunch of straight people?” he said. “Your average gay swimmers and gay softball players just don’t care about any of this.”
Added Ziegler, “If the event is fun, if the event breaks even financially, and the athletes and their friends have fun the event is going to be a success, just as it has in nearly all prior years,” he said.