Sports Complex

Globall-ization: How the War of Words Hurts Gay Jocks

Jim Provenzano | April 15, 2004

Representatives of the Federation of Gay Games and Chicago Games, Inc. celebrated their contract signing at a benefit concert by Melissa Etheridge.
Photo: Courtesy Chicago Games, Inc.
Athletics are a global phenomenon often used as a political football for nationalist politics. Some cultural theorists agree that team sports are basically a substitute for war.

As GLBT sports groups and individuals focus their summer 2006 plans on Gay Games VII in Chicago or Rendez-Vous 2006 in Montreal, will we be split across borders, like the 1980 and 1984 Olympics, when world politics forced a schism between U.S. athletes and now-former Soviet countries?

In press releases celebrating the European Gay and Lesbian Sports Foundation (EGLSF) leaving the Federation of Gay Games (FGG), Montreal's representatives ignored the fact that the EGLSF still supports the official Gay Games.

"The EGLSF does not approve of having two major international sporting events in 2006," wrote the EGLSF's Martin Nyborg in response. "Leaving the Federation of Gay Games does not mean that [we] will not cooperate with future hosts of Gay Games. The EGLSF will continue to encourage athletes to participate in international gay and lesbian sport events."

Montreal tossed out yet another volley. A March 16 article in Quebec's La Presse quoted Rendez-Vous CEO Louise Roy, who called the Gay Games merely "an American trademark. I think it's the end for them. We would have liked to come to an agreement with them. We tried, but it didn't work."

Chicago Games, Inc.'s Executive Committee responded. "The Gay Games are an international event with a legacy going back to 1982," the committee wrote in an open letter to Montreal. "Though founded by a few visionaries in San Francisco, a review of its Board of Directors or participants shows its strong international nature. Athletes from all over the world - including from Montreal - have already announced their plans to attend Gay Games VII. Contrary to published negative remarks, we are right on time with our planning and production. We look forward to working with sports and culture organizations, including our partners in Europe."

Montreal hopes to capture the European "market." Their bilingual province may have an edge, financially and politically, with even a new sports group, the Gay and Lesbian International Sport Association (GLISA), whose "core principles of participation, inclusion and personal best," mimic those of the Federation. Yet GLISA is supported by a for-profit corporation, Montreal 2006, which, in turn, is funded by Tourism Montreal.

After calling the Federation "an undemocratic, process-oriented organisation run by a handful of individual directors consumed with preserving their own image of the Gay Games," subsequent press releases for GLISA claimed no connection to Montreal 2006. Its membership remains selective.

With a shaky foundation of accusations and revisionist spin, how is GLISA any better than the Federation? Is Montreal so threatened by Gay Games VII that they need to assert an unproven superiority? In March, Montreal issued a press statement saying "American gays and lesbians are being subjected to unprecedented attacks on their civil rights," and blamed the Federation for "deliberately dividing the American community against itself."

Montreal's new athletic committee offers a veil of legitimacy, but embodies the tactics that critics of the Bush administration cite: pre-emptive strikes and misinformation. Their divisive comments are misdirected at athletes in cities and towns across America. Montreal appears bent on fueling a U.S. boycott.

This may hurt the diversity of Chicago's Games. Meeting athletes from around the world was the best part of the past two Gay Games, where I covered sports events from morning to nightfall.

Most athletes spoke English, but some felt more at ease being interviewed in their own languages, like Alfredo, a shy swimmer from Spain. This, I realized, is why I toiled in foreign-language classes. This is why I came: to cheer Tasmanian ruggers, to meet Croatian tennis players, to flirt with the fabulous Thai volleyball team, and to greet a lone swimmer from Brazil.

Despite its history of financial losses, the Gay Games still embody the goals of Tom Waddell, a former Olympian whose dream helped inspire thousands of athletes. That dream wasn't accomplished without the all-volunteer board.

At one moment in Sydney, I sat on the grassy field at closing ceremonies, parked between my newfound German wrestler pals and a cluster of athletes from Italy. As Alice Hoglan, the mother of 9/11 victim and rugby player Mark Bingham, spoke of her son, a flurry of trilingual explanations passed between us. Despite an overload of news, some still hadn't heard his story.

And only last month, watching TV news reports from the rainy streets of Madrid, as a third of Spain's citizens protested the March 11 train bombings, I felt sure that under one of those umbrellas was that aspiring swimmer I'd met years ago on the other side of the planet.

While some Midwesterners may have a less-than-worldly perspective, they will open their homes and hearts to visitors, crossing the divide forced upon us by our current administration and global discord.

Let our athletics movement transcend the spreading of lies, and instead celebrate, simply, the shedding of sweat.

Jim Provenzano is the author of the novels PINS and Monkey Suits. Read more sports articles at www.sportscomplex.org

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