There has been a lot of discussion lately regarding the role that sports play in greater political causes. With athletes like Colin Kaepernick who use their platform as professional athletes to make a statement for a particular cause and other athletes like Robbie Rogers whom make a statement just by participating in their sport as an openly gay individual.
The question lies here, do sports create an effective platform for enacting real world change within a community on the local, national and international level?
The Olympic movement itself was built upon this ideal…
“The goal of the Olympic Movement is to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practiced without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”
While some might argue that this goal, good intention hasn’t been nearly as successful as it may seem. After all, despite the existence and growth of the Modern Olympic Games over the past 120 years yet we still commonly face issues of discrimination, enmity and war. On the flip side, the Olympic movement has also brought those who might otherwise be enemies together on the world stage to share a friendly spirit of competition. So where does sport truly lie in the role it takes toward creating a positive change within the world?
Within the LGBTQ+ Community itself lies many different types of events and organizations for the community to come together with a common purpose, that is the sport itself. Through the organization of national and international level gatherings of sports, be it one sport or multi-level sporting events. The unifying factor to bring people together from all over the planet is for the common goal of participating in the sport itself. This has the potential to create a very positive impact on the LGBTQ+ and has already changed the community in many ways.
In 1982, the first of now many LGBTQ+ sporting events took place in San Francisco. The brainchild of one Dr. Tom Waddell, a 1968 Olympic Decathlete had organized the first ever “Gay Games” a large, quadrennial, gay and lesbian multi-sport event that sought to
“foster and augment the self-respect of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and all sexually-fluid or gender-variant individuals (LGBTQ+) throughout the world and to promote respect and understanding from others, primarily by organizing and administering the international quadrennial sport and cultural event known as the “Gay Games.”
In the 35+ years since the Gay Games begun, the movement has continued to grow and inspired countless other LGBT+ sporting events which seek a similar goal and purpose. Since the 1980s the LGBTQ+ community has undergone a lot of turbulent times but also a significant period of growth and expansion as more people started coming out of the closet, taking action to advocate for equality and taking the risks (often times with fatal consequences) to simply be and live as who they are.
While Gay Games and most other LGBTQ+ sport events have not taken any specific stand or action on political issues, they have played a significant role in inspiring and empowering generations of LGBTQ+ to live and thrive as an individual. Simply by creating an inclusive environment that offers the opportunity for participation and to achieve their personal best, LGBTQ+ sports have made a big impact on where our LGBTQ+ community stands today.
But why do we need a “Gay Games?”
A lot of people have questioned, why the need for a “Gay Games” and other LGBTQ+ sporting events anyway. Simply put, because the need for it is still there. A large majority of participants at such events tend to come from Europe and North America where we now live in the most inclusive and equal time in recent history for LGBTQ+ people. However, the Gay Games feels more exclusive toward those who, frankly, can afford the trip. Yet the purpose and mission of the Games is still very much relevant, the question is how can we increase participation from countries and communities where being LGBTQ+ is still grounds for prosecution, harassment and even execution?
Can communities from countries like Russia, Kenya, Uganda, Jamaica and China benefit from participation and representation in Gay Games? You bet they can. With homophobia, transphobia and other forms of discrimination still very much prevalent, those communities need the opportunity and support to take part in the games. Gay Games offers a welcoming, inclusive environment that has inspired and empowered LGBTQ+ youth for generations to be more involved. The same is still very much true today and by increasing the participation and representation from countries and communities where LGBTQ+ people face significant harassment and prosecution. We can continue to inspire and empower them to have the courage and take a stand against the discrimination and harassment.
All that simply comes, not from making any political statement or gesture, but by simply taking part in sport. It shows that the true power of sport lies within the game itself. Taking true action simply by playing a game, or in a race. Through participation, inclusion and personal best we can enact real and positive change in the world. That is the future of LGBTQ+ sport.
Donate to the Gay Games scholarship fund which exists specifically for this reason, to provide the financial support for athletes from underrepresented communities to be able to take part and participate at the 2018 Gay Games in Paris.
By Dirk Smith
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