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Volume 34
Issue 01
 
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European Union: Sport Crosses Borders at the EuroGames
European Union: Sport Crosses Borders at the EuroGames
by Jim Provenzano - SGN Contributing Writer

Kostas Tatsis and his partner, George Papas, live in Athens, the birthplace of the Olympics. At the 2004 Athens Games, they saw many sports events and celebrations, including the finish of the marathon race in Panathinaiko Stadium, where the first modern Olympic Games took place in 1896.

But Tatsis and Papas know few other Gay men like themselves who are out and interested in sports. "Athens has a very small Gay sports community," says Tatsis, who competed in track and field events since his childhood. "In Greece, Gay events do not take place at all. Hopefully, I believe that this will change in the near future."

Part of that change may come from the EuroGames. Last year, the two men were among four Greeks who competed and met thousands of other Gay athletes for the first time at the largest of several multisport events taking place each year in Europe. Tatsis won a gold medal in the men's 100-meter race.

Last held June 16-19, 2005, in Utrecht, the Netherlands, the tenth EuroGames drew more than 3,000 athletes. Serving as a model of small multisport events that don't require big budgets or major sponsors, the EuroGames also provide the growing world of LGBT athletes a chance to compete nearly every year with Queer athletes from other parts of the globe.

After the EuroGames, Tatsis and his partner were inspired to compete in other tournaments. The most popular events in the EuroGames were the swimming, volleyball, and track-and-field competitions. Tatsis says the best thing, along with the parties and well-organized events, "was the behavior of the Dutch people, who were very friendly to Gay and Lesbian athletes."

The EuroGames were first held in 1992 in The Hague, and the largest competition was in 2004 in Munich, Germany. Germans have historically been the dominant participants. But with growing LGBT sports communities around the world, other countries are now sending more athletes.

The European Gay & Lesbian Sport Federation (EGLSF) oversees the decision-making of bids from various cities. With more than 100 organizations representing 10,000 members, EGLSF is one of the largest LGBT sports groups in the world.

Ole Udsholt, an EGLSF board member who coordinates bidding procedures for EuroGames, says member clubs bid to host the event two years in advance. With 2006 including the seventh Gay Games and first world OutGames, the next EuroGames will not be held until 2007.

At its annual assembly in Budapest, to be held March 3-5, 2006, the EGLSF board will vote on which city will win the 2007 and 2008 host bids.

"Germany is the far biggest market for LGBT sport," says Udsholt. "But we are very keen on getting new people from Eastern and Southern Europe to participate. A few years ago, hardly any one from Spain took part in the EuroGames, and no clubs existed in Spain. Now, a lot of Spanish people take part and several clubs have been started."

To avoid the American dominance that has become a tradition of the Gay Games, the EuroGames only allow U.S., Australian, and other non-European athletes to apply for participation after the registration deadline for European competitors has been filled. Utrecht's EuroGames had a mere 10 U.S. participants, most of them foreign-born.

The level of competitiveness of each EuroGames changes, according to Roman Vitek, who lives in Prague, Czech Republic, and competed in the past two EuroGames in distance running events.

Vitek says that in Munich, with 2,000 more participants than Utrecht's EuroGames, "Athletes were more focused on sport. Utrecht offers not so many Gay facilities as Munich does. On the other side, we all met each other in the center of Utrecht because it is not so big. Utrecht was more familiar."

Like many others athletes, Vitek received hosted housing for a small fee. Low-income participants also receive waivers for other fees. "There will be not many Czech athletes at OutGames in Montreal or Gay Games in Chicago because participating in such an event is very expensive," says Vitek. Costs average 1,200 euros, about US$1,400 and two months' salary for a Czechoslovakian. "Not everybody can afford it," says Vitek. In 2002, the Czech Gay sport association bought the best athletes tickets to the Gay Games in Sydney. However, Vitek says, "This year we will have to bear all costs ourselves."

Along with providing an opportunity for athletes like Vitek, the EuroGames have been financial successes as well. "All EuroGames have had a surplus," says EGLSF's Udsholt. This helps local organizing clubs grow and increase their activities. "EuroGames are different from city to city, so it's hard to say exactly what makes this possible." One factor, Udsholt says, is the municipal and financial support provided by each host city.

Other smaller tournaments are held each year. The Pink Star tournament, to be held June 30 to July 2 in Nijmegen, The Netherlands, will include volleyball, swimming, squash, and tennis. Spain will host the second annual SunGames, which features multiple aquatic sports, from June 9 to July 1 in Madrid. Single-sport tournaments also take place throughout the year, and the website www.Gaysports.info maintains a calendar of events and information.



Jim Provenzano is the author of the novels PINS and Monkey Suits. Read more sports articles at www.sportscomplex.org. He can be reached care of this publication or at sportscomplex@qsyndicate.com.

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