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Gay Games VII: Where and When?Discord between Montreal and Federation
by Jim Provenzano
Bay Area Reporter / SportsComplex.org
Nov. 6, 2003
Disagreements between the Federation of Gay Games and the board of Montreal 2006, the group set to host Gay Games VII, have become public only weeks before the Federation's annual meeting, set in Chicago, November 10 -14.
After a series of teleconferences, emails and other communiqués, Federation board members have set Nov. 7 as a deadline for Montreal 2006 board members to agree to set the number of participants, sign contracts, and begin a series of payments for the $655,000 licensing fee to host the Games.
But Montreal organizers say their plan has been hampered by what they call "excessive control" over their budget and scope in presenting the quadrennial sports event, and may even hold their own sports event in 2006 without the Federation.
"We've got a fair amount to negotiate," Montreal 2006 co-president Mark Tewksbury told the Bay Area Reporter.
Via telephone from Montreal, the former Olympic swimmer and medalist questioned why the Federation has insisted on dictating so many aspects of what had been an approved proposal.
"We won the bid based on a budget of $20 million CAS (Canadian dollars). I would put it under the banner of a difference of vision. As to our goals and budget levels, I feel like we've done everything possible to find a winning formula."
But to Federation board member Charlie Carson, the formula should be one of restraint.
"Montreal 2006's current plan does not appear small enough, because it forecasts an income more than double compared to Sydney," said Carson. "We also continue to have differences regarding Federation supervision of their organizing efforts."
In a press release sent last week, Montreal 2006's Director Louise Roy called the impasse, "a crisis situation."
"The Federation has rejected arbitration and continues in its demands. Although the FGG has refused to meet with us face to face, we have agreed to continue negotiations on the points of contention."
Two main problems persist through the last round of negotiations; the size of the event, and financial controls.
Said Ms. Roy, "In document after document, we have accepted to give in to various demands from the Federation. In particular we have already scaled down our athlete participation forecast from 24,000 to 16,000, and our budget forecast from 20 million dollars Canadian to 16 million dollars. But there are certain basic principles that we cannot afford to ignore without endangering the Games themselves, as well as their financial viability."
The past several Gay Games have suffered increasing financial deficits. Sydney's Games lost almost $2 million US, and even ended up auctioning off leftover medals before filing for bankruptcy.
Games V in Amsterdam withheld revealing its financial problems until Opening Day, when the Director was summarily dismissed for financial irregularities. The city of Amsterdam eventually had to bail out the host company.
But Montreal 2006 reps say they have been assured such financial mishaps will not occur, and have $5 million Canadian already assured by the city of Montreal, the province of Quebec, and other Canadian investors, including Tourism Montreal.
"We have the support of a people who are not only tolerant but supportive," said Tewksbury. "We're the first to secure national TV coverage for the Games. We brought (former Sydney Games) sports director Stuart Borrie, who spent five weeks going over details with us, to help prevent the pitfalls that Sydney fell into, so we can come to a place that would be more acceptable to the Federation."
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"We recognize their optimism, largely due to the unparalleled support of business and government sources to date. Still, we do not have enough information about their budgeted expenses to realistically judge the claim that their only break-even participation budget is CAD$16 million for 16,000 participants."
Director Roy said, "To finance the Games a certain level of participation is necessary in order to attract the interest of major sponsors. Our vision on this issue is not shared by the FGG: their contract requires Montreal Games be planned on the basis of 12,000 participants. We know this would be a financial disaster, and to operate the Games without deficit, we must aim for a minimum of 16,000 participants."
Revenues come from registration fees, profits from parties, and an array of in-kind donations, products licensing, and network broadcast rights.
So, is the Federation - still recovering from the previous financial failures - being too cautious?
"I can understand where they're coming from," said Tewskbury.
"But we're two years into this project. We're on track, ahead of it every step of the way. At what point do you stop clinging to the failures of the past and say, 'Hey, maybe this is going to work.?'"
Having the Games return to North America, and in particular, the Northeast Coast, will assuredly make for easier travel plans in an area where a majority of Games participants live.
Despite attempts to internationalize the Games by having it hosted in Amsterdam in 1998, and Sydney in 2002, the majority of participants continue to be Americans.
The convenient proximity of Montreal to major US cities, as well as increased participation among Canadians, led Montreal 2006 to initially estimate 24,000 participants. Easier immigration policies, and its bilingual culture, make Montreal more appealing to European athletes and visitors.
But by 2002, Federation leaders asked the Montreal committee to lower their expectations down to 11,000, the average number of registered participants over the past three Games.
Montreal organizers resisted, but have lowered their numbers to about 15,500, which is the lowest they estimate that will allow them to financially break even.
Tewksbury said it would also limit the scope of inclusion, one of the main tenets of the original Games philosophy.
The Federation's Carson said that Montreal has already hampered negotiations by releasing newsletters and other information without Federation approval.
Further, a somewhat international rift has put the Canadian hosts on the defensive.
Louise Roy, Director of the Montreal Games, stated that "It is unthinkable that financial decisions on the Games be made by anyone other than its Board of Directors, who are legally responsible for the outcome of the event. As well, the citizens of Montreal, Quebec and of Canada would never accept the use of their tax dollars being determined by a small group of people directing the Federation."
Combining both the Games and Montreal's annual pride events, Divers/Cité, in the same week (July 29 - August 5), are seen as both a plus and a detraction, depending on one's perspective.
The Federation's Carson mentioned concerns of volunteers being spread too thin with pride obligations. He cited New York's 1994 Games as having become "lost in Stonewall 25 celebrations." The event, which anticipated larger numbers, lost money as well.
Carson also stressed the unproven ability of the city of Montreal to accommodate up to 15,000 Games participants, as well as perhaps three times as many Divers/Cité tourists.
But Tewksbury said he was assured that a wide range of accommodations, from hosted housing to luxury hotels, would be made available.
"We feel it is our baby now," said Tewksbury. "We own the right to host it, and we've acted in accordance with that plan. If we'd waited to sign a license agreement before doing anything," he said, none of their achievements thus far could have been accomplished.
This is before they have signed any contracts or made any payments, both of which will be due by Nov. 7.
Despite some more sensationalized reports elsewhere, other than a few disputed press releases, has anything been done by Montreal that is out of step with Federation rules?
"This is the first time that a License Agreement was not signed prior to the conclusion of the previous Gay Games," said Carson. "There is no violation of the License Agreement per se, because there is no License Agreement at this time. Montreal 2006 has several times pledged to act in the spirit of the License Agreement until both parties reach consensus."
If the negotiations reach an impasse, Montreal 2006 representatives have said that they may go ahead with an international sports event, whether it is officially called "Gay Games" or not.
Having already spent $1.5 million (Canadian) on promotions, developments and administrative costs, Montreal 2006 has "an obligation to investors to deliver an event to our shareholders that?s fiscally responsible," said Tewksbury. "These are public monies we are responsible for. We've got a house half built here."
Should the event not obtain licensing agreements from the Federation, it will splinter what seemed a very friendly relationship only two years ago. Montreal was chosen to host Games VII at the Federation's 2001 meeting, held in Johannesburg, South Africa.
After several other cities (mostly in the US) were also considered, Montreal won the bid to host Gay Games VII in 2006.
Now, they may host their own event in spite of the Federation.
"We still hope," Ms. Roy, "that the Federation and Montreal 2006 can come to an agreement and that we will be able to announce this in Chicago. After working on this project for two years, we have now established links with some 500 gay and lesbian sports teams around the world, which means that we can look forward to an edition of the Games on an unprecedented scale, regardless of the outcome of our negotiations."
Should Montreal hold 2006's event, named "Rendez-vous," without Federation approval, they have cautiously said that they may move the official Gay Games VII to the year 2007.
Although no alternate city has been named, protocol involves choosing one of the losing bid cities. Among those are Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Chicago, which is hosting next month's annual meeting.
"No matter where a Gay Games might be held in 2006, an organizing committee is going to need as much time as possible and so a decision must be made soon," said Carson. We're hopeful of a positive outcome."