Federation of Gay Games

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The Two Towers: Isengard's Orthanc & Montreal's Olympic Stadium

War of the Rings

by Jim Provenzano
Bay Area Reporter
Dec. 11, 2003

The learned elders sat in a circle, telling tales of woe and rancor. The rings had almost been stolen, and the fate of a people undecided.

No, the circle of concerned citizens was not the Council of Elrond, but merely local athletes hearing of the arduous events that transpired in Chicago last month at the Federation of Gay Games annual meeting.

The quarterly Team San Francisco meeting, where three new board members were elected, focused more on the fallout over the failed negotiations between the federation and Montreal 2006.

My comparison is certainly exaggerated, and while no one in Montreal should be compared to an orc, there is a sense of betrayal worthy of Saruman spreading through the land.

To quote the extensive response to the ordeal posted on www.gaygames.com, "Montréal 2006 has several full-time employees who, it appears, have recently worked virtually around the clock managing an extensive negative media campaign against the Federation."

Calling it not so much a legal problem, but " a moral problem," Federation delegate John Ascher explained that the fate of the Federation itself would be at stake if it allowed Montreal to host the Games unsupervised.

The Last Debate
Words like "betrayal," and "hoodwinked" came from even the most stolid FGG delegates like Derek Liecty, who has presided at over a dozen annual federation meetings.

Some even suggested that Montreal hedged on each of the fourteen versions of the Games contract, because toward the end, they had no intention of agreeing under any circumstances.

How it all transpired has been previously reported. The main debate was over "control," which Montreal claimed, versus "accountability," which the federation wanted.

Any previous participant would voice concern over making sure the same economic fate doesn’t befall another Games, yet Montreal refused to allow any oversight at all.

Federation negotiators said they offered multiple revisions to the contract, which extended flexibility to registration limits, but that they simply wanted to know how the money would be spent, "not dictate each signed check," said Team SF’s Ross Hayduk.

Federation reps like former co-president Gene Dermody said they were "acting in good faith," and through that, they gave Montreal’s board the extensive Red Book, which clarifies how to run sports events.

The Black Gate Opens
Armed with that definitive guide, Montreal will use it to stage their own games, but with no experience in doing so, and the bravado of promising "the best ever" in a world hampered by global economic disarray, and a city unproven in producing a manageable large-scale sports event.

To quote Montreal 2006’s own promotions, "There hasn't been anything like it in Montreal since the 1976 Olympic Games!"

Like Middle Earth’s Osgiliath, that event left the city in financial ruin for decades. According to its last plan, unless Montreal can accommodate 16,000 participants at a profit, it, too, will go bankrupt. No Gay Games or even Olympic event has ever had that many participants.

The talk of image branding, logos and licenses may seem petty to outsiders. These were cited as concerns of the federation.

But think of the importance. Montreal’s board, increasingly swayed by tourism representatives, refused to agree to let the owners of the Games logo, a series of interconnected blue rings, have a say in how that logo would be used.

By allowing them unsupervised use, Montreal could distort the history of the Games into whatever crass product they wanted; Gay Games sex toys, Gay Games jock straps, Gay Games Billy dolls, and other less salient products that belittle the reputation of what this whole thing is supposed to be about: sports.

What if Montreal sold products made by homophobic companies, or overseas firms employing child labor?

Another recurring problem is that of plain economics, which threaten to damage gay businesses. Several gay firms who signed on to Sydney’s Games went bankrupt, while the tour groups made their money and pulled away (not unlike the scoured mines of Moria).

Many Partings
Even before the final hours, Montreal 2006 press releases flew fast and furious, over the internet, and to Sydney 2002 participants from a list which the FGG said was appropriated without permission.

"Montreal painted themselves as a victim," said Team SF’s Ross Hayduk.

A for-profit corporation, less than two years old, who already used the unlicensed event for its own gain, now claims to have a clearer grasp of Tom Waddell’s vision than those who actually knew him.

Through this slew of accusations and reports, the venerable Federation may have acted like the lumbering Ents of Tolkein lore. Slow to agree among themselves, the 50 voting members of the non-profit chose not to respond until consensus was reached, and a revised plan considered.

Yet from those meetings, a lengthy yet clear rebuttal has emerged. While not as expansive as The Silmarillion, it explains a lot.

Among those plans are a determined focus to present Gay Games VII in 2006, and not allowing the official event to be bulldozed by other entities.

Whether it becomes a case of battling games remains to be seen, but federation reps dismissed a naive query asking if the official Games could simply "move to 2007," thus conceding to Montreal’s hoped dominance.

"We are not altering our plans," said federation delegate Roger Brigham.

Cities like Berlin and Los Angeles remain interested in bidding to host the 2010 Games. Why should future plans be derailed by Montreal?

The Land of Shadow
Meanwhile, like Wormtongue banned from Rohan, reps from Montreal will travel to promote their event, and disparage the reputation of the FGG, which has developed and nurtured the Games movement for two decades.

But what does Montreal offer a serious athlete? More Black Parties, which Montreal thinks will pay its bills?

"Athletes don’t go to the circuit parties," one San Francisco runner said. "We have to get up in the morning to compete."

Even more cultural festival and pride piggybacking? Certainly many enjoy a good play or music performance, but at what price? When will arts groups allow a tennis match at their events? Why should athletes lose money for what occurs every other week around the world?

A majority of surveyed participants said they want more focus on athletics, and Montreal’s plan never showed proof of providing this.

In fact, it showed the opposite, with proposals for the largest pride event the city hosts, and unrelated projects, like $250,000 for a Quebecois cultural booklet.

Montreal claimed up to $5 million Canadian dollars of support, but much of that is in-kind donations; facilities use, train passes, and promotional aide.

But sports officials don’t work for free. Referees come from the sports community, not from tourism boards.

Robin Tyler, a gay event promoter who quit the 2000 March on Washington, threw out a flippant accusatory letter to gay newspapers about it all, completely omitting her bias, that of being a seller of gay tour groups to Canada.

Syndicated journalist Rex Wockner, who was among myself in a press junket to 2001’s Divers/Cité, seems to still be clouded by his recent additional free trip to the city. In an opinion column, he placed his bets on Montreal, and dismissed the federation’s potential for recovery.

Like many in the gay press, he was quick to summate based on the swift yet devious accusations from Montreal. How will this viewpoint effect coverage of both sides?

Homeward Bound
Montreal may proceed with its plan of unlimited registration. But will that really lead to an inclusive event, back to back volleyball, bowling and softball rounds, leaving athletes stuck in venues day and night?

For competitive athletes, the question is simple; do you want to strive for years to win a medal from Rendez-Vous 2006, a corporate entity ruled by a tourism board that may not exist afterward, or instead win a medal from the seventh official Gay Games?

That decision will rest on the various boards of local, national, and international sports groups, over where to really focus on what may be their most important competition in years. Your input should sway that decision, because it will be your sweat, and your dollars, that choose which path to take.

Where do we go from here, Mr. Frodo?

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