When the 10th Gay Games open in Paris in August 2018, it will be welcoming its largest-ever group of Chinese athletes — or that’s the plan at least.
Qiu Hua, who has been reaching out to China’s gay community in search of athletes, found out about the Gay Games in 2014 at the badminton club he attends, just after Paris was awarded the games. He then volunteered to promote the Paris 2018 Gay Games in Chinese. “People in China don’t know about the games,” Qiu told Sixth Tone in a telephone interview.
Since April, Qiu has been promoting the games by posting articles on the Paris 2018 WeChat public account which he set up. He has also been contacting LGBT sports groups and associations, but with mixed results. “It’s difficult,” Qiu said. “These kinds of groups are really hard to find.” He has also contacted several nongovernmental organizations to help spread the message of the games.
Chinese athletes have competed at the previous Gay Games events — at the 2014 games in Cleveland, the one participating Chinese athlete brought home China’s first medal in the Gay Games, a silver for swimming. But the 2018 delegation promises to be the largest ever. Thanks in large part to Qiu’s promotion work, 19 Chinese athletes have already registered for the 2018 games, and Qiu is aiming for 100 by the time the event starts.
Athletes perform in the men’s synchronized swimming competition during the 8th Gay Games in Cologne, Germany, Aug. 5, 2010. Icola Datiche/WOSTOK PRESS/MAXPPP/VCG
The Gay Games were founded in 1982 by Tom Wadell, a former American Olympian and physician. Since 1982, the Gay Games have developed a reputation as a sporting event that stresses inclusivity and equality, in contrast to the competitiveness which defines the Olympics. It is the largest sporting event in the world where anyone, amateur or professional athlete, gay or straight, can participate just by signing up and paying a fee.
Although discussion of LGBTI issues has become more commonplace in Chinese society in the past decade, conservative attitudes still prevail, with only 5 percent of China’s LGBTI community reporting being open about their sexual or gender identity at school or work. At this year’s Olympic Games in Rio, 52 openly gay people were part of national teams, but none were Chinese.
In Hong Kong, a bid has been launched to host the Gay Games in 2022. The city would be the first in Asia to host the event. Out in HK, the organization behind the bid, organizes sporting events and trips for Hong Kong’s LGBT community.
If Hong Kong is awarded the games, it will be the first time the games are played on the continent, after previously being held in North America, Europe, and Australia. “It would be beneficial for Asia,” Qiu said.
As for Paris 2018, Qiu is approaching the competition in a suitably sportsmanlike manner. “I haven’t really considered whether China could win any medals,” he said. “Just participating is enough.”
This article has been updated with the following corrections: The 2018 Gay Games will not be the first event attended by multiple Chinese athletes, and the organizers hope the Chinese delegation will be the largest ever from China rather than largest overall.
(Header image: Three men in evening dresses pose during the opening ceremony of the 8th Gay Games in Cologne, Germany, Aug. 1, 2010. Icola Datiche/WOSTOK PRESS/MAXPPP/VCG)