The city of Antwerp is going through a “queerification,” says Jerko Bozikovic, co-founder of the 2013 World Outgames, taking place in the Flemish capital July 31 to Aug 11.
The veteran soccer player has competed in every Gay Games and Outgames since 1998, so he knows what LGBT athletes (and their admirers) are looking for in their travel experience.
"One thing I found is visibility of the games in the city should be very high,” Bozikovic says, recalling that at the Sydney Gay Games, outside of certain core areas it was easy to forget — or even know — the Games were taking place.
“When people come for the Games, we want them to feel the whole city belongs to us.”
Antwerp has the advantage of being a much smaller city. “You can do everything by foot,” Bozikovic says. His team is taking advantage of that to create a special experience for visitors.
Bozikovic says they’re taking their cue from the 1998 Amsterdam Gay Games, where “every bus and tram had a rainbow flag.” In Antwerp, every major shopping street will be filled with rainbow flags, and they’re working on having the castle lit up in pink.
Bozikovic fondly remembers arriving at the Montreal airport for the first World Outgames, in 2006, and at the bottom of the stairs at baggage claim seeing a huge banner that read “Welcome to the World Outgames.”
“I hadn’t even stepped into the city, and I was being welcomed as an athlete travelling around the world,” he says.
In that spirit, Antwerp will have a giant welcome banner of its own, though it will be at the central train station, where most visitors will arrive via London, Paris, Amsterdam and Brussels. Athletes and visitors will emerge into what Newsweek voted the fourth most beautiful train station in the world, in the second country to legalize same-sex marriage, with the first openly gay male prime minister in the world.
“We wanted to create that sensation of, 'Yes, I’ve arrived. I’ve spent time, money and energy to be here. Now let the games begin!'”
Held in a large city square, the opening ceremony will be a prime time for meeting new people from around the world; as of publication time 104 countries had registered.
"It’s the first place to show yourself off and throw glimpses to others,” Bozikovic says.
“People are in this whole different state of mind. It’s a different energy than a Pride or a cruise or a bar,” because people are there to compete in a sport and have fun, and preparing is not just about a “Pride diet” or working out — it’s about actual training. Still, Bozikovic says, he’s met two past husbands at the Outgames.
Emotions can also peak. “You’re entering with your country and seeing people coming from Pakistan or Palestine or Nigeria, and you’re happy for them that they can make it, that they are there. These are the leaders of the world creating change, and I do believe that united we can make a lot of change . . . so much more than just partying on a boat or a float, which is great, but this is just so much more,” Bozikovic says. Saturday, Aug 3, 8pm, Waagnatie
Mr Gay World
Thirty-two delegates from 32 countries from five continents will compete in the gayest of all beauty pageants for the coveted sash of Mr Gay World. Canada’s representative, Danny Dionysios Papadatos, hails from Saskatchewan. Props also to hunky former marine Matthew Simmons of the US. The VIP ticket includes dinner, and since Antwerp is the diamond capital of the world, there will be “diamond” champagne served: champagne with a stone in the glass. For most it will be zirconia, but three guests will find real diamonds they can take home. No word on taking the winner home. Grand finale and VIP dinner, Sunday, Aug 4, 8pm, Elckerlyc Theater
The most unique of the many official parties looks to be the one hosted by Australia’s DNA magazine. The DNA Pool Party is booked on what Bozikovic describes as Europe’s largest pool boat. It’s in the city’s harbour, right on the river, giving “a very special feeling.” DJ Dan Murphy from Sydney will be on deck (literally). It starts at 8pm sharp. Advance tickets are essential, as this will likely sell out. Wednesday, Aug 7, 8pm, Kattendijkdok Oostkaai
Café de Love Women’s Party
For the women, Café de Love organizers promise “shorts and skirts everywhere you look, the sun on your skin, a cool cocktail in your hand . . . and DJs playing the best summer beats so you cannot resist doing your best dance moves.” The event is being held in a “surprise location!” Sunday, Aug 4, 5pm
Forget Martin Short in a life vest on Saturday Night Live. For a truly gay sports experience that will leave you breathing hard, check out the men’s Parisian synchronized swim team. The men are hot, Speedo-clad, and they’ve made this traditionally women’s sport their own with an almost militaristic feel to their extremely athletic routines. Think aquatic Cirque du Soleil meets kung fu fighting. Sunday, Aug 4, Wezenberg swimming pool
A bite to eat
Bozikovic recommends Zuiderterras. It’s so close to the river, “you’re almost touching the water.” He describes it as loungey, with “European cuisine.”
Grab a beer
With 1,200 breweries in the country, “Belgium is known for its beers,” Bozikovic says. He loves a place called Pelgrom. “It’s in medieval cellars, with hundreds of candles and chandeliers. It’s a place to go share life stories or hook up with friends.” And he says the acoustics are so good you’ll be seated next to strangers and not hear what they’re talking about. More importantly, you don’t have to worry about them hearing you talking about them.
The World Outgames will coincide with Antwerp’s Pride celebrations, which run Aug 8 to 11. The parade is Sunday, Aug 10. Full details at antwerppride.com.