What Went Wrong: The Gay Games Bid


The Joburg bid delegation in Chicago

Last weekend’s announcement in Chicago that Joburg failed to secure the 2010 Gay Games came as a painful blow to many supporters of the bid. Cologne was given the nod, while Johannesburg was given second place – the fallback city in case Cologne is unable to meet its commitments.

After two years of enthusiastic and largely volunteer-based hard work, the bid committee was devastated. While the Chicago delegation glumly walked the cold streets of the city waiting for their return flights, in South Africa, the question everyone was asking was “why”?

What did Cologne have that we didn’t? What did we do wrong? As the delegation began to arrive back in South Africa, a clearer picture of the events in Chicago finally began to unfold.

The Windy City

The ultimate step in the bid process was last weekend’s presentation in wintry Chicago to the Federation of Gay Games (FGG) by the three bidding cities: Joburg; Paris; and Cologne. With the support of the City of Johannesburg and South African Tourism, a 30 minute video was produced (by production company Witch and Wizard) – punting the city and its world class venues – and a 12 strong delegation was sent to the windy city (via a 36 hour trip). This video was interspersed with live presentation elements from the South African team, most having a turn to speak to the 75 FGG voting directors. First was Cologne, then Joburg, then Paris.

In Johannesburg, the bid committee members who stayed behind received late night feedback via SMS. There were cheers all around when the team got the SMS telling them that that the presentation received a standing ovation!

“I’ve been a voting Director for 16 years and that was the most professional, most informative and most emotionally compelling bid presentation I’ve ever seen,” Said one of the FGG directors afterwards.

“It was a professionalism that some told us they hadn’t expected and it had an emotional impact that had the audience wiping away tears. It couldn’t have been better”, says James Mathias, the bid’s Co-Chair. “Our bid stressed three main points: we CAN host these Games, we WANT to host these Games; and We NEED to host these Games for our sisters and brothers throughout the continent, that still struggle for their human rights”, he explains.

None of the other presentations on Saturday, although reportedly very professional, had the same impact. The delegation was on a high. The following day was to bring the ‘questions and answers’ session, in which each bidding city would be expected to respond to a number of probing questions from the audience. In the session, our team was asked: how the World Cup would impact us; why we wanted the Games; what lesbian sport events South Africa was currently hosting; which legal jurisdiction we requested to operate under; how our arts program would be integrated into the community; and of course, about security.

This too went surprisingly well.

The announcement

All that remained was for the winner to be announced that Sunday afternoon (Chicago time). It was, by all accounts, a nail biting experience. From Chicago, Mathias writes:

“All teams entered the ballroom. We entered in black shirts with Zulu love letter beads, Joburg pins, our flag hoisted high and “shosholoza” energizing the room. We knew we had done a superb job. We thought we had it. Two representatives of each bid, holding their flag were invited on stage. After a few speeches, and in front of a half dozen TV cameras and our own SABC radio, South Africa’s Leigh-Ann Naidoo, Olympic Volleyball Athlete and a new Gay Games Ambassador, read out the vote: “Cologne”. From behind, it was clear her support of the Games movement didn’t totally trump her patriotism and she rather strained to read anything but “Johannesburg”.

But the decision was clear. Then it was a blur. We applauded our sisters and brothers from Cologne, hugged them and the Parisians, and moved on. As the proudly South African delegation moved with the first signs of uncertainty we made our way to the door. Hands grabbed out to shake, people emerged to pat us on the back, voting delegates were visibly moved – more than a few were in tears. Others shouted words of encouragement as the focus returned to the front, where Cologne celebrated. Sadly some members of our delegation had to fly out that night. They missed the chance to reflect and heal. It must have been a difficult flight. Those of us who stayed behind gathered in small groups to commiserate, complain and contemplate. Then we began to move on.”

In Johannesburg, just after 12am three members of the bid committee – myself, Paul Tilly and Renier Coetzee – huddled around a cell phone waiting to hear the results and to send out releases to the media (a “we lost” and a “we won” version had been written). It finally came in an unceremonious SMS: “It’s Cologne”.

At first we wondered if it was a joke, but it slowly sunk in. Dejected and feeling strangely unreal, we nevertheless popped a bottle of champagne. We had still achieved much.

Finally, answers…

It would be two days before we began to receive answers to our many questions. Apart from the fact that Cologne presented a solid bid, Mathias says that there were six major concerns that influenced the success (or lack thereof) of our bid:

  • Safety. The perception is that Johannesburg is too dangerous to bring thousands of visitors, especially women, to the city.
  • Lack of experience hosting large lesbian and gay sporting events.
  • Infrastructure concerns over how much was still to be built.
  • Confusion over partnership. Some were concerned that this effort was driven more by the tourism sector than the sporting or lesbian and gay community. (Ironically, this was also one of our bid’s strengths).
  • Distance and cost. Some were concerned that we were too far and too expensive a destination.

All these concerns were successfully addressed in the presentation, but by then it may have been too late for delegates who were voting on behalf of their sporting organisations; they had already been mandated to vote for a particular city before arriving in Chicago.

One of the FGG directors was quoted as saying, “I was directed by my board back home that we had to vote in this order: Paris, Cologne, Johannesburg. It wasn’t right and isn’t fair, but that is what I was compelled to do. Now I regret it.”

According to Mathias, the biggest factor was simply that, “they weren’t ready for us.” But the bid and its presentation did succeed in changing many minds for the future. We should not underestimate the importance of coming second as a first time bidding city (ahead of a city like Paris), and the South African delegation received overwhelming encouragement to return in four years to re-bid for 2014. This introduction, perhaps the hardest part of our bid, has now been made, and with impressive success.

Says Mathais, “Chicago, host of 2006 Games, was second place at the 2001 vote. They have managed to pull together, and presented impressive plans on their preparations for next year. I believe Johannesburg could do the same.”

Another FGG director reiterated the sentiment: “Johannesburg is ready to host the Gay Games, but the Federation wasn’t ready for Johannesburg.”

So what?

The Johannesburg 2010 Gay Games Bid will go down as a historic endeavour that may well have impacted on the political and economic landscape for gays and lesbians in the city, if not the country. It was a unique and never-before-undertaken collaboration between the gay community and city, provincial and national entities.

No other project by the gay community has ever been embraced and supported by these authorities in this way. The bid has shown that the equality afforded us by our constitution is not mere words on paper and has created a professional paradigm and partnership that could pave the way for many future opportunities. We may have lost the bid, but just by bidding we have won in so very many other ways.

What next?

The organisers of the 2006 Chicago games have pledged to reduce or waive fees for South African athletes, and to work on securing hosted housing. Various sporting codes have also expressed interest in bringing their international events to South Africa, with one offering a no-bid hosting opportunity based on the venues and presentation of capacity we showed during out presentation.

No decision has yet been made on a possible Johannesburg bid for the 2014 Gay Games, but a Community Meeting and De-briefing will take place on Wednesday 30 November, 17:30 to 19:00, at the Johannesburg Tourism Company (195 Jan Smuts Ave corner 7th, Parktown North / Rosebank).

The delegation to Chicago consisted of: James Mathias, Co-Chair, Johannesburg Gay Games VIII Bid Committee; Maciek Mazur, Director, Bid Committee; Perdita Bokeer, Bid Committee; Sheryl Ozinsky, Director, Bid Committee; Peter Muller, Director, Bid Committee; Councilor Christine Walters, City of Johannesburg; Eddy Khosa, CEO, Johannesburg Tourism Company; Bongi Mokaba, Special Events, City of Johannesburg; Pearl Mohapi, Johannesburg Tourism Company; Claude Pretorius, South African Tourism; Adv. Cawe Mahlati, CEO Gauteng Tourism Authority; and Zoza Mtutu, Reporter, SABC Radio.

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