By Dirk Smith, M.Sc, SDL (He/Him)

This last July, the 2019 Eurogames in Rome was held as 2000 athletes from all over Europe came to the historic Italian city in anticipation of a three-day experience of LGBTQI sports, arts and entertainment. Along the lines with the many different kinds of LGBTQI multi-sport events hosted every year around the world.

The Roma Games however had been under considerable pressure as the months leading up to the event saw the withdrawal of the European Same Sex Dance Association from hosting their championship event as part of the Eurogames program. In addition, criticisms from European Gay and Lesbian Sports Federation member organizations into the organization of the 2019 event which left a lot of questions unanswered. The event was expecting 5000 participants but, in the end, had less than 2000 registered.

As a result, the EGLSF had Roma suspend registrations to the event while an investigation was conducted into the financial viability and organizational competence of the organizing committee. The news only months out from the scheduled event comes on the heels of the 2015 Eurogames in Stockholm and the 2017 World Outgames in Miami which were organizational and financial disasters that left athletes feeling cheated and disappointed in the viability of LGBTQI multi-sport events.

At the conclusion of the investigation, the Roma team was required to make some major modifications to the event in which the registrations were then reopened and the event was permitted to proceed.

First, the Football Tournament, which was organized by the International Gay and Lesbian Football Association went really well. The athletes reported a strong organization and overall enjoyment during the tournament. IGLFA was present during the 2017 World Outgames in Miami and played a key role in ensuring that Football was one of the only sports that was not cancelled in Miami. In addition, IGLFA also hosts the indoor championships at the Sin City Classic every year, thus it is not surprising to see such positive feedback from the football tournament given IGLFA’s direct involvement in the organizational process.

Unfortunately, other sports and events did not fare so well at the 2019 Eurogames. On the first day of the event, participants were having issues with transport throughout Rome to locate their hotels and sports venues. There was a lack of shuttle service among the major venues, unreliable public transportation, no centralized sports village, and reported general “chaos” at the accreditation event. There was a reported “absence of communication” and simply lack of organization in just about every aspect. Leaving participants with a bad taste in their mouth before their tournaments even began.

Information regarding the sports schedule of events was not fully available until after the opening ceremony occurred, leaving athletes little time to properly prepare for their sports tournaments. This information generally should be available weeks in advanced when the registration period ends instead of the night of the first tournament. Little information was communicated via the social media channels in regard to where athletes could pick up their credentials and was not consistent, in addition participants reported a lack of response to their questions and comments on the page as well.

The disorganization of the event came to a head in the volleyball tournament. Players reported that there were not enough courts to play, with some reporting only having one court available for the whole tournament (volleyball tournaments usually have anywhere between 10-30 courts available), low ceilings (which could impact ball trajectory and thus play), shortened game times, random and inconsistent scheduling and poor communication. In short, the volleyball tournament did not proceed very well and athletes we’re not happy in the least.

A statement from EGLSF, the parent body of the Eurogames which selects the hosts of the Eurogames, was shared;

“Most of the problems encountered during the 3 days in Rome around EuroGames were due to a lack of organisation and absence of communication: the chaos at the accreditation, absence of a EuroGames village and post-opening ceremony party, and lack of shuttle bus services. And while most sports went off well, we recognize that the volleyball tournament is a big issue of discontent.

As a result, the EGLSF has communicated with the participants from the Roma Eurogames in soliciting their feedback regarding the event. This is similar to what they did following the 2015 Eurogames Stockholm fiasco which saw similar systemic disorganizational issues. While it is encouraging to see EGLSF making an effort to learn from the 2019 Eurogames Roma fiasco, it is clear that a major review to the standard operating procedures of the EGLSF bid process is in need.

In 4 years (2015, 2017, and 2019) have seen three major league LGBTQI multi-sport events completely drop the ball on the fundamentals of organizing a sports tournament. Leaving athletes behind as they take the money raised for the event and disappear. While these kinds of events are usually organized by a one off “host committee” that is selected by the parent organization, it is clear that the standards of selection and ongoing review processes by the parent organizations is severely lacking. Even more so, is there is a big lack of accountability with little voice for the athletes to input what standards events are to be organized

This is a major problem within the LGBTQI sports communities that major organizers can no longer simply ignore as they will start seeing less people willing to participate and less registrations to future events. Less registrations = less money. The LGBTQI sports community is a strong and growing community, with the successful organizations of LGBTQI events including the Sin City Classic, 2018 Gay Games, Gay Bowl, Bingham Cup and others. It is clear that there is a demand for LGBTQI sports events and a lot of growth happening that makes this a great opportunity. However, it also means that when events like the 2019 Roma Eurogames project their organizational stress onto the athletes, take advantage of the participants and fail to deliver on their expectations and basic fundamentals of a sports tournament, then they will ultimately fail.

International Gay and Lesbian Football Association, International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics Association, European Same Sex Dance Associations and other LGBTQI Sports Organizations understand this first hand. They will take the steps necessary to preserve their sports and organizations either through direct organization of the event (such as IGLFA and IGLA) or pulling the plug (such as ESSDA). These major sports organizations hold a lot of sway with their membership base on whether or not they choose to promote such tournaments. Their involvement is crucial for large LGBTQI multi-sport events such as Eurogames and Gay Games to be successful.

Based on my own experience as an athlete and journalist at the 2015 Eurogames, 2017 Outgames as well as various Sin City Classics, Gay Games and International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics events for 10 years. It pretty easy to establish which events are organized for the sports and their communities, and which events are organized for the commercial interests and the pink dollar. While the commercialization of such large events is becoming trendier and yes, necessary to an extent. It is important that the organization of the event itself does not lose sight of what their purpose and their communities. Sadly, in the case of events like Roma Eurogames, that has been lost.

The next Eurogames event is scheduled to be held in 2020 in Dusseldorf, Germany with events planned for 2021 in Copehagen, Denmark and 2022 in Nijmegen, Netherlands. Let’s hope EGLSF and the host committees for these events were paying close attention to the Roma Eurogames to ensure that this level of disorganization is never seen again.

Photo Credit: Diliff via Wikimedia Commons