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Gay Games Paris Opening Ceremony Record for Largest and Fastest Exodus from a Stadium

After a nice and rewarding morning at the Gay Games Paris 2018 Rainbow Run that was more of a march due to the overwhelming popularity of the event. I was look forward to partaking in the official Gay Games Paris 2018 Opening Ceremonies in the evening. Having been to two of these ceremonies already in 2010 and 2014, I was excited. I knew that the official request to meet at the ceremony grounds to pre-stage for the athletes’ march was (understandably) set for Gay Time. Thus, I took my time to arrive, so I wouldn’t stand around for 3 hours waiting to march in.

Once I arrived, we passed through security and onto the grounds, despite repeated reminders of “no large banners or selfie sticks” we could see the rule was loosely enforced. Athletes mingling about, catching up with teammates and friends while partaking in one of my favorite activities, pin trading. Although I was hoping to trade for more international pins, I was excited to get my collection started. The grounds had a few booths for food and drinks which while a bit sparse, was full of fast and hardworking employees who made sure all of us hungry athletes got some tasty crepes. I quickly found my team and spent the rest of the time catching up with my friends from all over the world. As we lined up to go into the opening ceremonies, I was excited as the Athletes’ March is my absolute favorite part of the whole ceremony. Little did I realize it would also be the highlight of the whole ceremony.

As the team entered the stadium, we were ushered onto the field lined by the most FABULOUS Cheerleaders everywhere from New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Salt Lake City and other cities. The cheerleaders are always one of my favorite groups to see perform at the Gay Games. As expected, we marched on the field and were quickly ushered around the stadium to find our seats, so we could watch the show. That is where I learned that there were only two, that’s right, two concession stands staffed with 6 people total to feed and drink 10,000 athletes and 2000-4000 spectators. Let the fun begin!

As we made our way to our seats, we had to pass one of the concession stands, that is we could make our way through the line that was 5 rows across and 50 people per line deep. Found our seats, which were great seats overlooking the turf at Stade Jean Bouin and a very loud speaker right in front. We promptly moved. Once we were settled in, we still had quite a bit more of the parade of athletes to get through. So I decided to join the concession line. After a sweaty, claustrophobic, 60-minute wait, we are almost at the counter and I can see that only one person is taking care of the 5 lines on half of the concession stand, pouring beer as fast as possible. Unfortunately, he wasn’t doing much else because they had run out of the baguette sandwiches to sell and, not having dinner, I was HUNGRY! Worse, was the stadium wasn’t even close to full! I later learned the other concession stand had some, but after waiting for 60 minutes while hungry just to be disappointed, I wasn’t going to wait another 90 minutes as well. I’d rather wait for my ex to text me or literally do anything else. Also, even if they did have food available, I wouldn’t have been able to buy it because the stands didn’t accept card or cash as payments were only handled on pre-loaded cash bracelets that apparently you had to get at accreditation. So, with the million or so dollars they spent at the opening ceremonies, they couldn’t afford to hire more workers and make a few more sandwiches or communicate more effectively on the payment policies of the venue.

I don’t drink, but I could’ve certainly used one for the cultural program, but I didn’t want to get back in line for another 90 minutes for that either (my ex still hadn’t texted to me). The cultural program started off with a very long video that is like a porn with a lot of backstory, just long and slow, except you couldn’t fast forward to the good stuff. There was an awesome routine performed by some of the cheerleaders as well as a titillating (I don’t use that word lightly, I like it rough…) performance by an awesome pole dance troupe. Also, the singer they hired to sing the French National Anthem was on point. The Emcee while I am sure he had a great personality, and perhaps my failed understanding of French humor, made his whole opening monologue about how we couldn’t understand him in French. With the subtitles on a 5 second delay and a single joke that went on 5 minutes too long, it was difficult for him to get solid audience participation, to say the least. In addition, he also went on an anti-immigrant/ anti-labour bit and I frankly, I didn’t care for his political rhetoric. I am just here to swim and maybe even get some. I have been to amateur night at a local stand-up comedy club, but this wouldn’t even made that cut.

With never-ending speeches sprinkled throughout the ceremony, as well as undying hunger and frustration with not being able to fulfill it as well, we decided to duck out very early on the hunt for something to eat. As we started to leave, I realized the concourse was a bit busier than normal but the concession lines were shorter. I realized that we were ahead of the rush as more people had the same idea. After exiting the stadium, it had looked like the ceremony had completely finished and let out, except it hadn’t finished. It did finally achieve some audience participation as people were booing the at the endless speeches. Without enough alcohol in their system; people were just leaving. So, we had to find food quickly before we would have to wait ANOTHER 90 minutes! Fortunately, we found a “Brasserie” nearby with some food and open tables. While the burger itself wasn’t anything special, it tasted much better than the disappointment of waiting 60 minutes for sold out food that I wouldn’t have been able to buy in the first place.

By the time that Special Guest Star ADA VOX took to the stage, it was estimated about 90-95% of the original audience had left. While I felt bad for being part of the exodus, I don’t know if staying would have been any less cringeworthy. If the booing didn’t express our feelings for the ceremony, having the speeches from FGG and Paris 2018 Organizers to an empty stadium sure did. Take note, always make sure to have plenty of available and accessible alcohol and food. Don’t bore your audience with endless speeches and boring videos, borrow planning ideas from previous hosts with successful ceremonies *coughClevelandcough* and perhaps this is a record that will never be broken… I hope.

By Dirk Smith

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