Hong Kong is in the running to host the 2022 Gay Games. Nik Addams examines what a successful bid could bring to the first Asian city to host the world’s largest LGBT sporting extravaganza and why events like this are a necessary part of our changing social fabric
Sometimes there’s more to a name. This is most definitely true about the quadrennial Gay Games – one of the largest amateur sporting events in the world. In fact, the number of participants at the fourth Gay Games in 1994 in New York was higher than that of both the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and 1996 Atlanta Olympics. But it’s not just gay. And, true to the community, it’s also not just about the sports. Founded by Olympic decathlete Tom Waddell in 1982, the games embody the spirit of inclusion and are open to athletes of any level, any age and of any sexual orientation. They promote participation and personal growth over 10 days of sporting and cultural events, visual arts programmes and academic conferences and workshops.
With Paris preparing to host the 10th Gay Games in 2018, the list of cities in the hunt to host the 2022 edition is the most diverse yet. Among the 17 candidate cities who have expressed interest, a Hong Kong delegation is busy putting together a formal bid to become the first ever Asian host city. There’s work to be done though, with a detailed ‘bid book’ required to be submitted by the end of November, followed by an exhaustive process of Q&As and site visits before a winner is announced in January 2018. A successful bid could be a huge boon for a global city like Hong Kong whose tourism revenues have been falling of late, with a recent study finding that Gay Games 9 brought an estimated US$52.1m increase in economic activity to host cities Cleveland and Akron in Ohio, USA.
Beyond the economic benefits associated with a winning bid, Leviathen Hendricks, the Federation of Gay Games’ director of international development, points out that a lasting legacy of each installment of the games is a ‘concentrated effect’ on human rights and equality. He says: “Countless numbers of participants over three decades have come to the games for a week-and-a-half of triumphs, excitement, inspiration, camaraderie, new friends and new ideas, and then created change in their own communities.” As such, he adds, the games can act as ‘a catalyst for personal transformation, inspiration and the determination to be yourself’.
These ideals are significant in Asia, where societal stigmas around homosexuality remain. For Dennis Philipse, head of the Hong Kong nomination committee and founder of local LGBTI social group Out in HK, the Gay Games ‘shows us and others that we’re equal, especially in our part of the world’. “Everything is possible in Hong Kong,” he says, “but nothing is allowed.”
As well as enhancing the spirit of inclusion, Philipse also thinks that the influx of tourists the games will bring might have a positive effect on conservative attitudes. “Imagine if you have 10,000 or 15,000 participants,” he considers. “The guy working at the coffee shop or the taxi driver will have more exposure to gay people, so maybe they can start to see that they’re just like everybody else. A successful bid might also help people who don’t feel confident enough to come out as well.”
But in a time where openly gay athletes are becoming increasingly accepted, is this type of event still necessary? The answer, for Hendricks, is yes. “For a time it seemed like there was a new athlete coming out every week,” he comments. “It’s an exciting development but most of these athletes have been in North America or Europe, where human rights laws generally provide more favourable protections for LGBTI people than other parts of the world.” Hendricks points to a 2012 Taiwan study which uncovered that up to one in five gay people in the country had attempted suicide. “Around the world, LGBTI people live in fear of losing their families, their freedom and their lives,” he says. “There’s still a great amount of work to be done in the world and the Gay Games is committed to it.”
Closer to home, legislative protection for the rights of the LGBTI community remain scarce at best. The games, though, can provide a chance for conversations to begin. “We’ve had lots of negative feedback in the past couple of weeks, with people saying that Hong Kong shouldn’t host because we don’t have gay marriage,” says Philipse. “But this is not about gay marriage. This is not about LGBTI rights. This is about showing that Hong Kong can host an event like this. When the Gay Games started in San Francisco, there was no gay marriage in America. So it all evolves.” And, with a successful Hong Kong bid, evolve we just might.
For more information on the Gay Games, head to gaygames.org.