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National

Pride Month Spotlight: Gay Games

Arthur Kapetanakis | June 25, 2021

 

The Tokyo Olympics are set to kick off on July 23. Only the best of the best will have the opportunity to go for gold for their countries this summer.

 

At the Gay Games, slated for Hong Kong in November of 2022, all are welcome to compete—regardless of skill level or sexual orientation. The 11th edition of the event will continue the Federation of Gay Games’ mission to promote equality, diversity and inclusion through sport.

 

That’s not to say that the competition is anything less than fierce. World records have been broken and sanctioned at the Gay Games, including in swimming events. But there’s a place for novices too.

 

“It really democratizes sports,” said Shiv Paul, Vice President of External Relations for the FGG. “You may have just taken up a sport that year, but you can be in an environment with somebody who actually holds the world record for that sport that you're competing in. There isn't really any other event like it.”

 

The Gay Games accepts all comers, with athletes able to enter various levels of competition, from beginner to elite. The 2022 Games will feature 36 sports, including dodgeball and e-sports for the first time, as well as the Chinese sport of dragon boat racing.

 

There has been some controversy around the Games heading to Hong Kong, according to Paul, but the organization views its first venture into Asia as another opportunity to make a difference.

The opening ceremony at the Paris 2018 Gay Games. Photo courtesy of the FGG.

“In my view, the first rule of activism is to show up,” Paul shared. “And at our hearts, FGG has always been an activist organization, from the very first Games.

 

“We do what we can with what we have,” he continued, echoing the famous Arthur Ashe quote that is emblazoned on the player entrance at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. “One of the things we can do is show up in a territory where our communities are more marginalized than in other places and at least be a voice to try to normalize things for that society.”

 

The inaugural Gay Games were held in San Francisco in 1982, after being founded by the late Dr. Tom Waddell, a former Olympic decathlete. After starting with 1,500 participants, the 2014 Games in Amsterdam saw a record turnout of nearly 15,000 participants, with a near-even split between males and females. The number of countries represented has also increased, from 12 in ’82 to 91 nations in Paris in 2018. 

Athletes shake hands after a tennis match at the Paris 2018 Gay Games. Photo courtesy of the FGG.

It’s not just sport that’s on offer. The Games also promote cultural events like cheerleading and musical displays, as well as workshops, exhibitions and panel discussions on a curated range of topics.

 

The FGG also organizes a scholarship program, supported by fundraising, through which hundreds of young people from underserved countries and communities have been brought to the Games to learn from the values on display.

 

The Games have received support from President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in the past, with both providing welcome messages for previous games.

 

As for Hong Kong 2022, Paul—who spent three terms with the USTA’s D&I National Committee, most recently as vice chair—says that “all systems are go,” as the planning intensifies.

Apart from his work with the USTA and the FGG, Paul also made a documentary film about LGBTQ+ amateur tennis players in the U.S. 2014, “Queens at Court,” which was promoted throughout the US Open Series that summer. After recently moving back home to the United Kingdom, now living in London, he is part of a group of counselors to the board of the LTA.

 

Paul first traveled to the Gay Games in Cologne in 2010, and has been a part of the FGG team since 2018.

 

“I always describe it as the world's largest sports and cultural event that's put on by LGBTQ people,” he said. “And it’s open to everybody.”

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  • At the 2022 Gay Games, slated for Hong Kong in November, all are welcome to compete—regardless of skill level or sexual orientation. The 11th edition of the event will continue the Federation of Gay Games’ mission to promote equality, diversity and inclusion through sport. Read More

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