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Competing events vie for international gay athletes

Team Vancouver says it won't take sides

TRENDSETTERS: Chris Scully models Isabelle Swiderski's winning design for Team Vancouver's 2006 jersey. Credit: André Beaucage photo

Montreal’s Outgames 2006 and Chicago’s Gay Games VII will go practically head-to-head this July for the attention and attendance of queer athletes from around the globe. The competing events are forcing Vancouver’s queer athletes to choose which one they want to attend.

“I think most Canadians would want to go to games in their own country for economical and national reasons, but I think it’s caused confusion,” says Pat Hogan, a Team Vancouver board member and DanceSport athlete.

“I just got back from New Zealand, and I met up with some women who had been part of the Gay Games,” continues Hogan. “They were saying the average person in New Zealand, and I think this is true of Team Vancouver as well, doesn’t care about why [there are two competing events]. They just have to make a decision about which one they’re going to.”

The split stems from a 2003 dispute between the Gay Games’ original host, Montreal, and its governing body, the Federation Of Gay Games (FGG). The main sticking points: financial decision-making power and how many athletes should participate in the games. Montreal and the FGG were unable to resolve their differences.

So the FGG turned to one of its second-choice hosts and asked Chicago to step in and host the 2006 Gay Games, instead. Montreal vowed to put on its own games, and the first-ever Outgames were born.

The two games will take place just two weeks apart this summer. Chicago’s Gay Games will run Jul 15 to 22, while Montreal’s Outgames will run Jul 29 to Aug 5.

Hogan, who is also a local representative of the FGG, is quick to note that Team Vancouver doesn’t favour one event over the other.

“The board is taking a neutral position,” she says. “It’s not for us to take sides. We’re members of both the FGG and the Gay And Lesbian International Sport Association (GLISA), the organization that’s helping to run the games in Montreal. The uniforms will be neutral; they will just say Team Vancouver. They won’t say Chicago or Montreal on them.”

Team Vancouver president Glenn MacDonald echoes Hogan’s feelings, and notes that Vancouver was a trendsetter when it came to supporting both the FGG and GLISA equally.

“People always ask us, ‘Where is Team Vancouver going? Who is Team Vancouver supporting?'” says MacDonald. “Well, Team Vancouver is supporting wherever their athletes go. They are going to both Chicago and Montreal.

“We made that statement prior to the formation of GLISA, as soon as Montreal made its intentions known that they were proceeding with their own games and that Chicago was going to have the Gay Games,” MacDonald continues. “Our mandate is to support gay and lesbian sports, nationally and internationally, so both events are within our mandate.

“The hockey team is a member of GLISA and the FGG through the International Gay and Lesbian Hockey Association. The English Bay Triathlon Club is a member of GLISA,” he notes.

Two virtually simultaneous events raise the question: are there enough gay athletes out there to support two international gay sports festivals?

“You should ask us that in September,” MacDonald laughs. “At the moment, the combined attendance is close to 20,000, which is greater than any single games in the past.”

As of Feb 22, Montreal is boasting 11,322 registered participants, while Chicago trails with 8,000.

Team Vancouver took a big step toward both events Feb 19 when they unveiled the uniforms their athletes will wear at both queer games. After having the hottest outfits at each of the last two Gay Games, the pressure is on to make sure Vancouver’s queer athletes look their best again this time around.

“I wouldn’t say it’s gotten out of control but definitely Team Vancouver, in the last two Gay Games, in Amsterdam in 1998 and Sydney in 2002, made a mark because we have had exceptional uniforms; ones that people wanted to have,” Hogan says.

This year’s winning design, submitted by Team Vancouver soccer player Isabelle Swiderski, was chosen after a lengthy process that culminated in a fashion show at Celebrities on Feb 19, where members of Team Vancouver voted for their favourite designs.

Despite the popularity of previous Team Vancouver uniforms, an official uniform sponsor has yet to be nailed down, and MacDonald is wary about taking more of the coveted uniforms than they can sell.

“If people order extras then they can have one to trade,” he says. “It’s not tempting to order 500 more to bring along — if you don’t sell them, then you get stuck with the bill,” he laughs.

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Gay Games gets HIV exemption

Chicago Gay Games organizers announced this month that a US federal blanket waiver has been approved allowing non-US citizens living with HIV/AIDS to enter the country to participate in or attend the July sporting event.

The announcement comes as a relief to organizers and HIV-positive athletes alike.

“We are happy that all participants from outside the United States once again will be able to travel freely to attend the Gay Games this summer,” Kathleen Webster, co-president of the international Federation of Gay Games, stated in a press release.

The US government does not allow non-citizens living with HIV/AIDS to enter the country unless they have obtained a waiver. This was a major obstacle for Gay Games organizers, who are in the middle of a marketing blitz to attract participants. Now HIV-positive people can file a single entry B-2 travel visa, rather than make their case individually on a special form.

Canada does not require a waiver for HIV-positive visitors.

– Paul Gallant