In 2014, Israel sent a delegation of eight athletes to the Gay Games in Cleveland/Akron that competed in several sports. The possibility of attending the event became a reality when the athletes received travel sponsorship and housing from the Jewish community in Cleveland. The Games would inspire one of the Israeli athletes, swimmer Sagi Krispin, to begin the process of forming an LGBT sports community in Tel Aviv.
“The Gay Games were my first LGBT sporting event and it was life changing for me,” says Krispin. “When I returned to Tel Aviv, I wanted more people to experience what I had just experienced.”
Tel Aviv has a thriving LGBT community and its recent Pride celebration, with the City of Tel Aviv as a major sponsor, drew more than 100,000 people along with 10,000 tourists.
The city has a dynamic LGBT nightlife, a supportive population and impressive cultural resources. One thing that was missing was an organized LGBT sports community.
“We wanted to build the sports community one step at a time and we started with the swim team, the TLV Nemos,” Krispin says. “We took eight swimmers to the 2015 EuroGames in Stockholm,which provided us with the opportunity to compete in relays. It was a great experience.”
The next steppingstone was to create the TLV LGBT Sports Club as an organization to oversee any new sports that would be formed in addition to joining international organizations such as the Federation of Gay Games, European Gay & Lesbian Sport Federation and International Gay & Lesbian Aquatics. Krispin is now serving on the boards of all those entities.
Krispin didn’t play any sports himself while he was growing up in Yavne, Israel, but that all changed while he was attending Tel Aviv University.
“I learned how to swim when I was young but never thought I was good enough to play sports,” says Krispin. “While I was attending Tel Aviv University, it was required that you take courses in sports. I chose swimming and have been competing ever since.”
Earlier this year, a few Israeli athletes living in Madrid, Spain suggested that a tennis club be formed by holding a tournament in Tel Aviv. A group of Madrid tennis players agreed to organize the event and the Tel Aviv Open debuted in March of 2016.
The registration numbers were low at first, but a scholarship incentive was offered by Quang Nguyen of the Capital Tennis Association, which drew in more Tel Aviv players. A group of five players from D.C. traveled to the tournament, which is now a stop on the Gay & Lesbian Tennis Association’s world tour.
“It was very cool to be part of the first LGBT tennis tournament in the Middle East,” says Capital Tennis player Bud Rorison after attending the tournament. “Everyone had a great time and it resulted in some of the Israeli players attending the Madrid tournament.”
That fits right into the mission statement that was created when the TLV LGBT Sports Club was formed. Their mission is threefold and first is to build a community and build strength within the community to create a safe space. Second is to use their voice to fight against homophobia in sports. Third is to participate in tournaments locally and abroad.
Just last week, Krispin traveled to the IGLA World Championships in Edmonton, Canada, where he won one gold medal and two bronze medals. The group also recently presented an initiative to the Knesset (Israel’s unicameral parliament) regarding problems in LGBT sports along with ideas to correct them.
All of the momentum created by the sports club has resulted in a surge in athletes signing up to play. There are currently 45 swimmers, 20 tennis players and 20 basketball players including a women’s basketball group. Just over the past few weeks, a soccer team has emerged with 50 players.
Last month, the Federation of Gay Games announced 11 cities that were bidding for the 2022 Gay Games, including: Austin, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Cape Town, Guadalajara, Mexico, Hong Kong and Tel Aviv.
Tel Aviv has decided to withdraw its bid due to the deadlines in submitting the application fees. They are still going to use their forward progress to create a sports tournament of their own called the Tel Aviv Tournament.
“We are in the planning stages of creating a multi-sport event in 2017 that would include swimming, tennis and basketball,” Krispin says. “Sports have such a powerful effect when you see so many people come together as a group. We want that to happen in Tel Aviv.”