3 min

The not-so-gay games

Are they playing chicken or keep-away?

REBEL. Mark Tewksbury admits that Montreal took its ball and walked away. Credit: Montreal 2006

I keep asking one question in the wake of what is shaping up to be a nasty divorce between Montreal 2006 organizers and the Federation Of Gay Games (FGG): What the hell happened?

As might be expected, both sides are pointing fingers in the wake of the mid-November collapse of negotiations between the two sides. Montreal ’06 types are charging that FGG types were a posse of control freaks. FGG officials are saying that Montreal negotiators were unbending in their demands for autonomy.

At this point, it seems there are virtually no chances that the ball will be picked up. Montreal organizers say they are going ahead with their event without the FGG logo. FGG organizers say they must now pick another city to take over the official Gay Games (Atlanta is an odds-on favourite), but have also stated they will not choose calendar placement that would compete with the Montreal event. (No word on what the new name for the Montreal event will be.)

Predictably, both have posted statements on their respective websites, each snarking at the other side. What’s tremendously sad is the sheer potential this event had. “This could have been so great,” says Mark Tewksbury, Olympic gold medallist and co-president of Montreal ’06. “We could have surpassed all of their dreams, we could have taken this so far. It’s too bad.”

A spokesperson for the FGG told me that sentiments on his end were similar. “No one is happy about this,” says Jake Stafford. “We were hoping that the impasse could have been overcome.”

The combination seemed unbeatable: Montreal, one of the most gay-friendly cities in North America (or the world for that matter), a major gay tourist destination in the most socially liberal province in Canada, the country that is moving ahead with gay marriage, would host the Gay Games, the largest queer sports event. Montreal ’06 organizers have already culled millions in fiscal support from all three levels of government.

That looked good, say FGG types, but they wanted more control, seeing as the last three Gay Games ended up with whopping deficit burdens. Hell, last year’s Sydney event almost got called off at the 11th hour due to a cash crunch. FGG wanted a certain degree of veto power and what they saw as more realistic goals – perhaps an understandable thing, considering the Games’ financial history.

For Montrealers, the sky was the limit – also entirely understandable, considering the potential for the location.

The FGG’s Stafford also suggested that some of the negotiations appeared to stem around a certain degree of anti-Americanism, itself a result of the Iraq war. Stafford points to a barrage of e-mails the FGG received after the collapse of talks with Montreal.

“Never we will accept to give you the money coming from the Canadian government to corporatist [sic] American group for the games,” wrote one Montrealer.

“What some Canadians don’t seem to realize,” said one FGG negotiator who wished to remain anonymous, “is that most gay Americans hate what our government is doing and don’t approve of our president.”

What puzzles some on the FGG side was the moment when Montreal walked away from the negotiating table. After about 15 hours of talks, some felt the two sides were nearing an agreement. Sources at the FGG said it seemed as though Montreal wanted the talks to cease. This would mean that Montreal wouldn’t have to pay a $1-million Canadian licensing fee, nor would they have to agree to any of the FGG’s stipulations.

Tewksbury has since said that he thinks there is room for more lesbian, gay, bi and trans sporting events on the calendar, but also says he would rather that Montreal and the FGG had settled their differences.

“Yes, we did walk away, I suppose that’s true,” he tells me. “But their conditions were unreasonable.”

After initial news of this divorce, I suspected divisions over who was right and who was wrong would fall along the 49th parallel: if you were American, chances are you’d think that the Canadians were just being difficult; if you were Canadian, you’d think the Americans were just being corporate and controlling.

But behold Rex Wockner, the widely distributed, California-based gay columnist, slammed the FGG as a “wet blanket,” going on to state in his column on the split that “I’m placing my bet with Montreal. I know some of the organizers there and I think they can make it happen big…. The government support alone lined up in Montreal is unprecedented.”

Wockner went on, concluding: “Why didn’t the FGG jump through whatever hoops were necessary to prevent this rupture? I believe they messed up big time and we may witness the demise of the federation itself.”

* Matthew Hays is an editor at the Montreal Mirror.