How Montreal’s Outgames outgamed Chicago’s Gay Games
The verdict on Montreal’s inaugural World Outgames is in : Montreal dazzled the world. That’s mainly because the world decided to come to Montreal instead of going to Chicago’s replacement Gay Games two weeks earlier, and most Americans decided to stay home and go to Chicago. By most accounts that clearly affected the atmosphere at both events, deflating Chicago and energizing Montreal. That had to be unfortunate news for American athletes who trusted the pro-Chicago American media when they continually and unfairly sideswiped the competing Montreal Outgames.This tone was reflected in an August 2005 column by Washington Blade executive editor Chris Crain who nastily ranted, “[Montreal’s] decision to walk away from the Gay Games and put on a competing event was a betrayal to the Gay Games athletes, volunteers and supporters, and it also betrayed motivations steeped more in money and ego than the spirit of unified sporting competition embodied in the Gay Games ideal.”
Talk about not letting the facts get in the way of a good story.
“The unilateral actions of the Montreal organizers are the type you’d expect from ugly Americans,” Crain snarled. “Only Americans would never get away with it.”
Clearly Crain believed he himself could get away with it. I’m here to remind him he hasn’t.
In a July 13 feature story headlined “Another Gay Games – feud sparks rivalry,” Sara Waddell Lewenstein, the widow of the late Olympian and Gay Games founder Dr. Tom Waddell, told The San Francisco Chronicle, “Montreal didn’t want to be part of the Federation (of Gay Games) – they wanted their own games. Let’s just cut to the chase… There’s only one Gay Games and forever, as long as I live, there will always be the Gay Games.”
The Advocate magazine even had a cover story on the two competing games – guess who came out smelling roses – and NYC’s alt-weekly Village Voice, in their June 2006 story headlined “Split decision,” noted Montreal’s “planning committee balked at the level of oversight desired by the Federation of Gay Games, leading the Montreal organizers to walk away and form their own athletic competition, the Outgames.”
Now, I have repeatedly reported here and elsewhere that the FGG froze and forced Montreal out. But Montreal could not give up financial control to the FGG when Montreal organizers were still the ones financially accountable to all levels of government and corporate sponsors. In fact, if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: If the Gay Games are the Uganda of the sports world, than the FGG is Idi Amin.
Then, during the games, the actual feud was overlooked by American sports journalists as media outlets as varied as ESPN and Sports Illustrated kissed Chicago’s ass, so to speak, and pretty much ignored Montreal.
But one sports media outlet – the widely-respected U.S.-based Outsports.com – attended both events. Outgames co-founder Cyd Zeigler Jr. wrote, “The Federation of Gay Games had it right in 2001 when, after long deliberations, they decided Montreal was the best choice for 2006. While there are some receipts left to be counted, the rest of the ballots are in and it is official: The Outgames kicked the Gay Games’ ass.”
Zeigler continues, “I went to both events. I went to both opening ceremonies. I traveled around their respective towns and I took in a number of sports. And there is no question who put on the better event. Virtually everything about the Outgames was better than the Gay Games, from the opening ceremonies to presence in the city to organization of the sports to evening activities. My final grade for the Gay Games was a C+ (which, after experiencing Montreal, I now think was too generous); My final grade for the Outgames was an A-, which is about as good as you can possibly expect from a reporter who is digging his nose into every nook and cranny of the event.”
About the city of Montreal, Zeigler wrote, “Viger Square served as an incredible athletes’ village of sorts. There were signs and posters and front-page newspaper articles and Jumbotrons telling you that the Outgames were happening and boy were they fun! In Chicago, there was none of that. No energy. Sure, there were some bars you could go to at night, but it wasn't even in the same league as what Montreal accomplished.”
Zeigler says the biggest failure of the Gay Games was the organization of the sports themselves. “Montreal 2006 and GLISA that put on better sporting events than the 24-year-old Federation of Gay Games,” Zeigler wrote. “It was the Outgames’ athletes that were singing the praises of the organization while many Gay Games athletes were moaning about their sports.”
Zeigler then goes in for the kill: “The Outgames’ success was probably the worst thing to happen to the Gay Games since the death of Tom Waddell,” he noted. “I’m left wondering, if another group, who hadn’t put on an event like this before, can do a better job than the Gay Games, then what is the need for the latter?” Echoing what I’ve been saying ad nauseum for over two years, Zeigler pointedly notes, “What sticks in my craw, though, is that this all could have been avoided if the Federation of Gay Games had just stuck to its own plan. In 2001, they awarded Montreal the right to host the Gay Games. After the Sydney Gay Games in 2002, they decided to change the rules. They wanted more control of the finances. They wanted to force Montreal to plan for a smaller event. The organizers in Montreal balked and, in the end, the FGG pushed Montreal to walk away and we were all left with a choice. If the FGG had simply stuck to the plan and believed in the Montreal organizers, it would have been a wildly successful Gay Games with a budget surplus. Instead, the FGG let its own internal politics and hunger for power usurp what was a good decision in 2001.”
Zeigler then concludes, “After attending both of these events this year, if I have to choose again, my choice will be easy. The Outgames put on an event that I didn’t think was possible. They shared a vision for these Games that was more wonderful than anything I had seen in Sydney or Chicago. If the Gay Games does some listening and less talking, maybe they'll get a glimpse of that same vision. But, I doubt it.”
Still, not all was rosy with the Outgames.
As I first noted in my August 10 Outgames wrap-up column in Hour magazine, Montreal 2006 organizers should be ashamed for selling Outgames souvenirs and T-shirts made in such anti-gay countries as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Guatemala. And, to make room for the popular Athlete’s Village, the homeless were booted from Square Viger, scandalously echoing Mayor Jean Drapeau’s tactics against gay establishments when he “cleaned up” downtown Montreal on the eve of the 1976 Olympics.
Montreal 2006 also ran one of the most useless and arrogant media relations departments I’ve ever had the misfortune of working with – including charging working journalists $75 each to attend keynote LGBT conference speeches by Navratilova and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour. In fact, I heard nothing but bitter complaints from various colleagues at Montreal’s media outlets trying to cover the Outgames.
While Montreal media widely despised how the Outgames press room was run, none (with the exception of Le Journal de Montreal) covered the Outgames in their sports sections or sports broadcasts - including Global TV, a point I brought up on-air live when I was invited to debate the Outgames on – wait for it – Global TV. I also brought up that very point in all the live media interviews about the Outgames that I did with the CBC, The Montreal Gazette and Montreal AM sports-radio station TEAM 990.
Yes, there was saturation coverage in the news sections of Montreal’s dailies – indignant La Presse editorial writer Ariane Krol even pettily and insufferably opined, “Montrealers would have preferred these games be called by a French name,” to which I can only reply, “Krol, Montreal doesn’t own the Outgames, so why don’t you ask Canadian Tire to change their name instead?”
But apparently to sports editors in this city, the term “gay athlete” is still an oxymoron.
When all is said and done, though, I prefer to give the final words to some athletes who came to Montreal and were quoted in the aforementioned Washington Blade in an August 11 feature story headlined “Out and winning in Montreal.”
“Chicago was more of an athletic competition where Montreal was more of an event,” one athlete said.
Another noted about the opening ceremonies in Olympic Stadium, “None of the athletes, until you walked in there, had any idea what it was going to be like. I think a lot of jaws dropped to see how big it was. They really put on a big show.”
Yet another athlete raved, “The city bent over backwards for the games. The signage for the Outgames was everywhere. From the minute you stepped off the plane you knew you had come to Montreal for the Outgames. There was no question. Canada is very gay-friendly and Montreal is one of the gayest cities in Canada.”
If anything, Montreal is the gayest city in Canada and, following the Outgames, I say Montreal now irrevocably ranks with New York, San Francisco, Berlin and Sydney as one of the Top 5 gay cities on the planet.
Official statistics for both Chicago’s Gay Games and Montreal Outgames won’t be released for several weeks yet, but already plans are underway for the 2009 Outgames in Copenhagen and the 2010 Gay Games in Cologne, Germany.
May they be as memorable as Montreal.
Richard Burnett is Editor-at-Large of Montreal’s Hour magazine where he writes his national queer-issues column Three Dollar Bill, which you can also read online at www.hour.ca.