10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Gay Games, Heading to Hong Kong in 2022
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While November 2022 may seem far off, LGBTQ athletes the world over are training and working hard ahead of the Gay Games’ 11th installment, set to take place in Hong Kong. More than 10,000 athletes are expected to gather for the big occasion, making it the world’s largest sports and cultural event that is open to everyone.
This truly international event got its start in San Francisco in 1982. Dr. Tom Waddell — who himself was an Olympian, having competed in the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games and placing sixth in the decathlon — founded the Gay Games, a sports competition modeled after the Olympic Games.
Taking place every four years and welcoming athletes from nearly 100 countries, the Gay Games have quite a legacy, and interesting facts about the international sporting event abound. Here are 10 things you probably didn’t know about the Gay Games:
1. Over 40 years, the Gay Games have been hosted by countries and cities around the world.
What started in San Francisco (in 1982, and then again in 1986) has since traveled the world. Vancouver, New York, Amsterdam, Sydney, Chicago, Cologne, Cleveland and Akron have all played host for the Gay Games, with the most recent iteration — Gay Games X — taking place in Paris in 2018.
2022, when the Gay Games come to Hong Kong, marks the first year Asia will host the games. (And it should be said that Hong Kong beat out 16 other cities for the honor of hosting the next games.)
2. You don’t have to be gay to participate in the Gay Games.
As we noted previously, the Gay Games are open to all, no matter one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. This policy coincides with the Gay Games’ three core principles of Participation, Inclusion and Personal Best. No one is turned away from competing, whether they are a novice or an Olympic medalist, and no matter their age, nationality or health status.
3. Today the Gay Games welcome athletes competing in more than 30 different sports.
Back in 1982, the Gay Games saw athletes compete in a number of sports — basketball, billiards, bowling, cycling, diving, golf, marathon, physique, powerlifting, soccer, softball, swimming, tennis, track and field, volleyball and wrestling — but come 2022, the total number of sports have reached 36.
For the very first time in Gay Games history, Hong Kong will see athletes compete in dodgeball and e-sports. Other sports, like Dragon Boat Racing, are particularly popular in the region and are also included among the event’s many competitions.
4. World records have been set at past Gay Games.
When talented athletes from around the world are gathered in one spot, it’s not unusual to see new world records set. Perhaps the most famous instance of this was in 1990, when Michael Mealiffe, representing the West Hollywood Aquatics Team WH2O, broke a world record in the 100-meter butterfly. That accomplishment (and the history of that WeHo aquatic team) is documented in the documentary Light in the Water (free to watch in its entirety here).
5. In addition to sports, the Gay Games have a large cultural component.
In every previous iteration of the Gay Games there have been Cafés Philosophiques, which are basically conferences and panel discussions on topics of interest to the LGBTQ community. At the Paris Gay Games in 2018, topics covered how sports can combat discrimination and sports as a source of well-being and health.
In addition to those panels and conversations, the visual arts and music are represented. The International Rainbow Memorial Run opens every Gay Games week, and there’s typically a slew of programming at the Gay Games festival village and venues throughout the city.
6. Tina Turner performed at the very first Gay Games.
Here’s a historical tidbit you may not know: Back in 1982, when Tina Turner was attempting to resurrect her career as a solo artist (having previously performed with her ex-husband Ike), she performed at the opening ceremony of the 1982 Gay Games in Golden Gate Park. Famous gay author Armistead Maupin (Tales of the City) was the master of ceremonies that same year.
7. Speakers at past Gay Games include Ian McKellen, Barack Obama and more.
In 1994, the Gay Games came to New York City in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, and Sir Ian McKellen gave the closing address at Yankee Stadium. In 2014, President Barack Obama opened the 2014 Cleveland+Akron Gay Games with a pre-recorded video welcoming athletes from around the world to the games.
“I know some of you have come from place where it requires courage — even defiance — to come out, sometimes at great personal risk,” Obama said. “You should know that the United States stands with you and for your human rights, just as our athletes stand with you on the fields at these games. After all, the very idea of America is that no matter who you are, what you look like, where you come from or who you love, you can make it if you try.”
Watch Obama’s Gay Games opening ceremony video here:
8. While today it’s more supportive, the Olympics once sued the Gay Games.
Ahead of very first Gay Games in 1982, the event was called the “Gay Olympics,” which caused the United States Olympic Committee to sue Waddell and his organization. Just 19 days before those very first games were to take place, the Olympic Committee secured an injunction, but instead of canceling the games, they went forward under a new name — the Gay Games — and were a huge success.
9. In the past, the Gay Games have had more competing athletes than the Olympic Games.
The very first Gay Games is said to have brought 1,350 athletes from 11 countries to San Francisco, but the roster of athletes who compete these days is significantly larger. The 2018 Paris Gay Games had more than 10,000 participants from around the world.
Back in 1994, the nearly 11,000 athletes who competed was more than those who competed in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
10. Hornet’s co-founder and CEO is the Director of Fundraising for the 2022 Gay Games.
Hornet has long thrown its support behind the Gay Games, but for the upcoming 11th iteration, Hornet CEO Christof Wittig has taken a personal role in guaranteeing the event’s success, acting as Director of Fundraising for the Hong Kong games. It’s just another way Hornet, the world’s leading gay social network with 25 million users worldwide, supports the greater LGBTQ community.