Leaders of the two quadrennial LGBT international sports competitions – the Gay Games and the World OutGames – signed a memorandum of understanding in May establishing what they say is a preliminary framework for merging the events in 2022.
Officials with the Federation of Gay Games (FGG) and the Gay and Lesbian International Sports Association (GLISA), which organizes the OutGames, said the decision to move ahead with plans for a merger was prompted by the results of a widely distributed online survey of members of both organizations.
According to the officials, the more than 2,000 responses to the survey showed that 88.7 percent of respondents support having a single quadrennial sports, human rights and cultural event in 2022.
The Gay Games were first held in San Francisco in 1982 after gay Olympics athlete Tom Waddell, who is credited with founding the event, was forced to drop the name he first envisioned, the “Gay Olympics,” after the International Olympics Committee insisted it held exclusive legal rights the Olympics name.
The Gay Games continued every four years since its founding year in San Francisco, attracting thousands of LGBT athletes and spectators in cities in North America and Europe as the sole international LGBT sporting competition until 2006, when the first World OutGames competition was held in Montreal.
The OutGames first emerged two years earlier, in 2004, when an irreconcilable disagreement surfaced between the FGG and the group it initially selected to organize the Gay Games in Montreal for 2006. After protracted and sometimes acrimonious negotiations failed, the Montreal organizers broke away from the FGG and announced they would organize their own event in Montreal called the OutGames.
The FGG then reopened the bidding process for another city to host the Gay Games, and Chicago was selected as the new host city. Both events took place within a week of each other in the summer of 2006, and two international quadrennial LGBT sports events have been held ever since.
Nearly all of the dual events have attracted far fewer athletes and spectators than the Gay Games had attracted for its events prior to the split.
“They have to come together with one event because having two events has really hurt both events, and the community wants just one quadrennial event to focus on,” said Cyd Zeigler, co-founder of OutSports Blog, a highly regarded online publication about LGBT sports issues.
“The real question is what does it look like and what is it called,” Zeigler told the Washington Blade. “And for me, it would be such a shame to lose the name Gay Games.”
Zeigler and others supportive of the Gay Games say the Gay Games name and brand have become an important part of the LGBT community’s history and should be preserved.
Among those agreeing with Zeigler is Jessica Waddell Lewinstein, the daughter of the late Gay Games founder Tom Waddell. However, unlike Zeigler, who favors a merger, Lewinstein has come out strongly against the proposed merger as disclosed by the two groups.
“In general, I’m totally open to merging two events, if it is done properly and makes sense, but I’m not seeing anything that tells me that this is one of those situations,” she told the Windy City Times in July.
Officials with the FGG and GLISA have been cautious about publicly discussing potential stumbling blocks to a merger agreement, saying instead that the memorandum of understanding is a work in progress. Both sides have said they are hopeful that a final agreement can be reached because their respective members and supporters strongly favor a single LGBT international sports event.
“All of us at the FGG are extremely thrilled to see things moving forward in a positive manner,” said FGG Co-President Kurt Dahl in a statement in March.
“GLISA is excited on the progress of this vital collaboration that benefits the worldwide LGBT sporting community, GLISA Co-President Tamara Adrian said at the same time.
The memorandum of understanding calls for following recommendations and proposals established by representatives of both groups during a meeting earlier this year in Cologne, Germany in which a lengthy and detailed document referred to as the Cologne Report was drafted and approved.
Among other things, the MOU provides for the creation of a Transition Commission, which will “steer the development of a single organizational body to deliver future One World Events,” a statement released by the two groups says.
Officials on both sides have also said that a merger of the FGG and GLISA is just one of several options under consideration. A single World Event, as the two sides refer to a merged LGBT sports competition, could also be put together by the creation of a newly created entity separate from the FGG and GLISA, officials with the two groups have said.
A One World event could not be held any sooner than 2022, the officials have said, because plans for the next Gay Games and World OutGames are already solidified. The next World OutGames is set to take place in Miami in 2017. The next Gay Games is slated to take place in Paris in 2018.
Meanwhile, an official Working Group consisting of representatives of the FGG and GLISA has been conferring with LGBT sports organizations in North America and Europe to obtain input on the best ways to bring about a merger of the two events.
“We hosted a town hall meeting in June with representatives of the working group,” said Brent Minor, president of Team D.C., an umbrella group representing D.C.-area LGBT sports groups and teams.
Among those participating in the meeting was Les Johnson, an FGG board member from D.C.
“It is clearly a desire among U.S. sports groups to have something in 2022,” Minor said. “That is the goal. A lot of people feel that way,” he said. “The key is can these two organizations that have been estranged come together for one event? It will require compromise.”
Minor said that in addition to the issue of what the joint event should be called, the two sides remain divided over whether a human rights conference should be a major component of the 2022 event and all those that follow. The OutGames organizers have long favored and included in their event such a conference.
Minor, who has been a longtime supporter of the Gay Games, said the Gay Games side doesn’t think such a conference is essential to a quadrennial LGBT sports competition.
“We all want it to be a sports and cultural event,” he said. “We think sports should be the primary focus.”
But Minor added that Team D.C. officials are hopeful that the talks will be successful because uniting the two organizations to hold a single international event is in the best interests of the LGBT community.
“It’s going to take a great deal of compromise,” he said.