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Gay sports, they are a-changin'
by Roger Brigham

Three decades ago, the Gay Games were launched in San Francisco, forever changing the landscape of LGBT sports and triggering the organization of hundreds of LGBT sports groups and eventually empowering hundreds of thousands of LGBT athletes. No athletes benefited more than the participants in smaller, individual sports such as powerlifting, bodybuilding, martial arts, and wrestling. The Gay Games provided the critical mass of participants for those sports to organize nationally and globally.

We now appear to be on the brink of a new age in LGBT sports, and those smaller sports are likely to be left out as athletic diversity gives way to number-crunching economics and appeasement politics. The 2014 Gay Games in Cleveland may well mark the last major LGBT sports-intensive global event with significant sports diversity as the smaller individual sports seek to survive through smaller, more sports-oriented events.

A power struggle for the soul of the Gay Games has been going on behind the scenes for years, with diehard sports supporters struggling to retain control of the quadrennial event's mission as tourism industry interests attempt to change the model into more of a Pride party and conference event. The division erupted in the quadrennial cycle leading up to Gay Games VII in Chicago with the creation of the rival World Outgames, and continues even now as joint discussions are held by Gay and Lesbian International Sports Association and the Federation of Gay Games to establish a single event in 2018.

FGG Co-President Emy Ritt informed the FGG membership August 8 that the Joint Working Group was proposing to call the 2018 festival "Together 2018 Gay Games X 4th Outgames."

Rolls right off the tongue, doesn't it?

No details have been announced, although the FGG membership is supposed to look at proposals next month and will vote on proposals at its annual meeting in Toronto in October. My best guess is the proposal will call for both GLISA and the FGG to be involved in selecting the host organization and giving GLISA what the World Outgames have never had: competitive, multiple bidders; access to Gay Games constituents; and steady income.

And expect the athletes to foot the bill for a human rights conference to be held as akey component of the Outgames model. Perhaps, as was done at the recently concluded continental Outgames in Vancouver, there will be a live demonstration of how to cleanse an uncircumcised dick. Not sure exactly how that is related to sports.

With an estimated 1.2 million visitors in Vancouver for Pride Week, the Vancouver Outgames last month managed to pull in an estimated 800 combined conference and sports registrants after initially projecting a larger sports slate and 4,000 participants. A dozen sports events were held, and of 40 conference sessions, 29 did not deal with sports issues.

Smaller, individual sports either have not been included in past world and continental Outgames or have not drawn enough numbers to be successful. It is difficult to envision many or any of them surviving beyond one unified quadrennial cycle. But help may be on the way through nascent, smaller grassroots multi-sport events.

One of these is the Sin City Shootout, to be held over Marin Luther King weekend in Las Vegas next January. Begun in 2007 as a winter softball tournament hosted by the Greater Los Angeles Sports Association, and the brainchild of firefighter Eric Ryan, the fifth edition will also include tennis, bodybuilding, and wrestling.

No massive opening and closing ceremonies with endless political speeches. No human rights jaw sessions. Just parties and sports run by and for athletes.

Vancouver Outgames announced a large slate of planned sports events and then cut bowling, water polo, figure skating, ice hockey, swimming, mountain biking, mountain marathon, and dragon boat racing when it turned out that the calendar in those sports was already saturated. In contrast, Ryan, the tournament director of Sin City, contacted a bevy of sports to assess their interest and only announced the sports that expressed interest. If they come, they will build it.

"My ultimate goal would be to add a couple more sports a year," Ryan told the Bay Area Reporter. "Keep it where each sport handles its own competition, collects its own registrations and fees, and just builds in a small fee to cover things such as the bracelets every athlete will get for access to events."

Ryan said he expects about 2,000 softball players, by far the largest of any of the Sin City sports. He said the Body Building Guild said it was expecting 50 athletes; host Las Vegas Tennis Club was expecting about 100 athletes; and Southern California Wrestling Club, which is co-hosting the event with Wrestlers WithOut Borders, expects about 50 wrestlers.

Basketball participated this year but is not back next year because of schedule conflicts. But tournament conflicts didn't stop wrestling: New York's Metro Wrestling quickly agreed to move the date of its winter tournament in order to help the start of the new wrestling tournament, dubbed the Runyon Wrestling Classic, in honor of SCWC founder Pete Runyon. The tournament is expected to offer one day of freestyle wrestling and one day of WWB's first-ever grappling tournament.

"I think it's a positive experience," Ryan, 41, said. "It's not the Gay Games or the Outgames walking-into-the-stadium experience, but it's an economical alternative to stay active and socialize, and not have so much of the politics involved in those bigger events."

Sin City information is available at Softball registration opens September 1 and other sports will open their registrations on separate dates.

There weren't a lot of sports options available for LGBT athletes when the Gay Games started three decades ago, but now because of the success of the games, there is an ever growing number of options, from single sport international championships to club tournaments and mini-sports festivals. They cannot match the empowering experience of the Gay Games as we have known them, but as the new one quadrennial event gets ready to shed some of its sports participation commitment to competition and diversity, it is good to know the sports should be able to survive. And perhaps pick up the pieces when the insanity ends in another decade.

As Bob Dylan would say, "the first one now will later be last, for the times, they are a-changin.'"

Here and there

Pride meet: The weather was perfect last Saturday for the fourth Pride Track and Field meet, hosted by San Francisco Track and Field Club and held in non-Gay Games years. Results are expected to be posted this week on the event's Web site, ... Tony Bruno update: The sports talk radio host was suspended for one week by DirectTV for his incorrect and racist "illegal alien" reference to San Francisco relief pitcher Ramon Ramirez Friday, August 5 on his evening talk show. Still no apology or suspension for his calling baseball players "pansies." ... Redneck Olympics: The reporting on Maine's Redneck Olympics last week was as sloppy as the mud pit in the event's Belly Flop competition. Numerous news agencies repeated each other's errors, saying the International Olympic Committee was objecting to organizers using the word "Olympics" and that the Gay Games had dropped the word in 1982 because of the "threat" of a lawsuit. It is the United States Olympic Committee that called Redneck organizer Harold Brooks and said that using the word "Olympics" was a no-no; and it was the USOC that got an injunction and fought a four-year lawsuit all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court blocking the Gay Games from use of the word. It also had a lien on founder Dr. Tom Waddell's house that it did not release until after his death. Brooks told the Lewiston Sun Journal (Maine) that he believed his event was protected from the law because it was a parody of the Olympics. "It's a comedy act," he said. "They can't touch me."


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