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Outgames pulls ahead of Gay Games in early registrations

Counting down to rival athletic events

Are you Gay or are you Out? You can be both, but the timing will be tight for the two international queer sport events happening within two weeks of each other in July 2006, the Gay Games in Chicago and the Outgames in Montreal.

Many queer athletes have been watching the two warring events – Montreal organizers and the Federation Of Gay Games (FGG) split two years ago, with the FGG awarding the event to Chicago and Montreal launching a competing international sports organization — to see if one of them would attract the critical mass necessary for a tough competition and a good time.

In the final months of preparation for the two events — Chicago’s starts Jul 15, Montreal’s Jul 29 — Montreal has twice as many registrants and 20 times as much money in the bank than its brand-name rival.

As of last month Outgames had 9,480 athletes registered for the event; well on the way to its goal of 16,000. Part of the dispute was that FGG organizers thought Montreal’s goal was too unrealistic. The last two Gay Games events in Sydney, Australia in 2002 and Amsterdam in 1998 attracted more than 12,000 participants each — without a rival.

“We have plans for 2006 that can be modified,” says Pascal Dessureault, press secretary for the Outgames. “For example, if we have 14,000, 16,000 even up to 22,000 participants we have flexible plans to prepare for that.”

This year alone the heavily promoted Outgames pushed for registrants at more than 300 events around the world. As a result, almost half of registrations have come from outside North America. Currently 34 percent are from Europe, nine percent from Australia and New Zealand, two percent from Africa and one percent each from South America and Asia.

Given the large overall numbers and the worldwide diversity of registrants resulting from an extensive and expensive marketing campaign, organizers are truly attempting to create a world-class event. But, of course, these aren’t the Gay Games as Chicago’s staff make abundantly clear.

“They are having a multisport tournament; we are having the Gay Games,” says Tracy Baim, vice cochair of the Gay Games. “In the end the visibility from the controversy has drawn attention to the Gay Games.”

Baim says Chicago is taking the reins and is on track for a successful event. They now have 22 full-time staff, three offices in operation, 23 board members, 2,500 volunteers for the event itself and $600,000 cash in the bank.

As of last count in November the Gay Games had 4,300 registrants. They are budgeting on a projection of 12,000 attendees. They are also relying on corporate sponsorships in order to avoid the deficits suffered by the previous four Gay Games.

“We’ve already raised more money than Amsterdam and Sydney combined,” Baim says. “We want the sponsors to feel a sense of shared ownership and risk. It may sound simple, but it’s never been done before. We kept our model of corporate support. While Canadians may support the games with government money, we could never get that.”

She is referring to the fact that Montreal’s Outgames has the financial support of the its municipal, provincial and federal governments. Montreal also has Bell, Labatt, Air Canada and VIA Rail on board as corporate sponsors. Montreal’s Outgames is working with a budget of $16 million; Dessureault says they had $12 million of that in the bank as of September. He says the government involvement means the budget is audited.

Team Toronto, which has purposefully avoided supporting one event or the other, will have at least 400 and possibly more than 500 athletes going to one or both games, says executive board member Michael Ferguson.

“We figure we’ll have a good representation at both games,” he says. “Probably one of our bigger teams.”

Overall Toronto athletes are primarily attending Montreal, if not both, for various reasons: proximity, loyalty to Canada, the perception that Montreal got stiffed by the FGG, US politics and border-crossing issues. Some people worry about whether HIV-positive athletes will have difficulty entering the US. Baim says organizers expect a special events waiver for HIV-positive people, but don’t have it yet.

The animosity between the two events is held in check – mostly. The latest Chicago press release ended: “There is only one Gay Games. Be part of the event truly unlike any other.”