As The First World Outgames Begin Next Month In Montreal, Ottawa Athletes Could Be Without The Unified Front Enjoyed By Teams From Other Cities.
It used to be that when any of Ottawa’s gay sports teams went to an international event like the Gay Games, they’d be under the umbrella of Team/Équipe, an organization that made sure they had matching uniforms. And it provided a lot of other support such as group rates on airfare and hotels. But the umbrella group disbanded after the last Gay Games and, despite a last-minute push to re-create it, may not be ready by the end of July.
“I think there’s going to be a real lack of team feeling for the people going to Montreal,” says Nicole LaViolette, one of the former co-chairs of the defunct Team/Équipe.
Tony Do, one of the organizers of Ottawa’s gay volleyball league, agrees. He previously attended the 1998 Gay Games in Amsterdam under the aegis of Team/Équipe. “It really is unfortunate that we’re going to do the Parade of Athletes, and it’s your home city and we’re going to be so uncoordinated. It will look really bad as a city if we don’t know each other.”
But it doesn’t have to be that way-and there may be some hope if Do has something to say about it. He and several other local sports team organizers have realized that they need to take action if they want to arrive in Montreal looking like more than just a rag-tag collection of athletes. So they hope to quickly revive Team/Équipe-if only for now.
Team/Équipe was started in 1989 in advance of the Gay Games in Vancouver. Given that the games organized around city teams rather than national teams, local athletes thought it made sense for people in Ottawa to get together and form an organizing committee to coordinate things. Initial turn-out was good, and a committee was struck.
“I volunteered to sit on it,” LaViolette recalls. “Back then, we had probably 10 people on the committee. The idea was to try and find ways to help people make it to Vancouver, maybe put some teams together, come up with a team uniform.”
A few years later, that committee incorporated in order to give themselves a formal structure with a board of directors, and they became a not-for-profit organization. But volunteer efforts only went so far, and within a year after the 2002 Gay Games in Sydney, Australia, Team/Équipe folded.
In the years since, the lack of coordination from Team/Équipe has impacted on Ottawa’s queer sports communities. Few teams even know one another any longer. This is one driving factor in the movement to rebuild the organization.
“A Team Ottawa could be helpful because it could be an umbrella organization,” says Michael Cooper, co-chair of the Ottawa Frontrunners, who also swims with the Rideau Speedeaus. “By sharing resources, it could be a single point of contact, a single use of marketing funds if it chose to expend those-neither of the groups I’m in as far as I know actually spend money on marketing except for their website-but an umbrella organisation that asks a little from each member organization could afford to do that.”
Cooper likes the idea of a single point of contact for people interested in getting involved in sports. “What I’d like to see is it be an inspiration for people to say ‘Hey, I could be in this, and I can also be in that,’ and have people who cross-fertilize.”
Cooper also thinks umbrella organization could help increase female membership in groups like the Frontrunners or the Speedeaus.
“Not everyone has the same infrastructure, and not everyone has the same organizing skills, not everyone has the same marketing skills within a team,” says Dan Sabourin of the Rideau Speedeaus. “Teams operate in silos, and it’s much more difficult to go to a corporation or city hall for sponsorship from one single venue as opposed to a corporate entity that amalgamates itself, that has a common front.”
But if the benefits of such an umbrella organization are self- evident, then why did Team/Équipe fold after the last games?
“What we found increasingly was that we were unable to get people to commit to do this work even a year before the games, even six months before the games,” says LaViolette. “People were very happy with the work we did, they were very happy to get a nice uniform and to be introduced to other Team Ottawa athletes, to have social events organized during the games for Ottawa. Everyone was very pleased, but no one was willing to help.”
At the end there were only three people left on the board of directors, including LaViolette. “We did a really focussed recruiting campaign. We invited specific individuals, did a presentation, and nobody stepped up to take over.” But for the community that appreciated the efforts, LaViolette is left wondering. “Maybe we weren’t making it clear to people that this was a lot of work.”
So what can Do, Cooper and the other organizers of a renewed Team/Équipe hope to do in order to combat the same fate of the first organization? For one, they are looking for representatives from each of the city teams, and are trying to make sure that everyone participates on the ground level.
They also hope to use the Outgames as a springboard to keep the organization going for future events. After all, international events are no longer once every four years. While the Gay Games remains on a four-year schedule, the next Outgames are scheduled for Copenhagen, Denmark in 2009. As well, next year Calgary will be hosting the North American Continental Games, which is being likened to a miniature version of the Outgames.
And then there are the local events. “You’ve got your volleyball meet and your swim meet,” Cooper says by way of example. “We should promote them to each other, and get people attending.”
That doesn’t mean that reviving Team/Équipe won’t be challenging. Aside from simply finding contacts with all of the local sports teams, they need to ensure that everyone wants to join. “We need to make it exciting,” Cooper says. “Everyone needs to buy in.”
And then there is the issue of raising volunteers. Many members of existing teams are already busy. Cooper and Do expect that others will argue that an umbrella group is unnecessary.
“We’re all going to walk into the opening ceremony not wearing the same shirt-what does that say about Ottawa?” Cooper asks. “It would really suck if the national capital couldn’t have a visible presence.”
Do concurs. “I’ve been to one, and I know how precious the moment of walking in is, to represent your city. So to walk in as a bunch of groups of sports does not look good for Ottawa. I really want to push it because you really want to represent Ottawa well.”
Progress on reforming the group has begun, and they have already been in contact with the Montreal organizers, who are helping them to get in touch with the registered Ottawa athletes, as well as offering them a bar to throw a party for Ottawa athletes. The issues of t-shirts is also being examined.