President Obama welcomed participants to the Game Games on Saturday night

President Obama surprised participants at the opening of the ninth Gay Games in Cleveland with an unexpected greeting.

The American leader welcomed athletes, coaches, families and spectators to Ohio and the USA in a special video message screened during the opening ceremony at the Quicken Loans Arena on Saturday night.

Around 20,000 participants, including 7,000 athletes, from 50 countries are expected to take part in the event.

“I know some of you come from places that require courage and defiance to come out, sometimes at great personal risk,” said Obama.


Survivor South Africa star Zavion Kotze at the opening of the Gay Games

“You should know the United States stands with you and for your human rights, just as our athletes stand with you on the field in these games. After all, the very idea of America is that no matter who you are, what you look like, where you come from, or who you love, you can make it if you try. That’s who we are, and that’s who we continually strive to be.”

The opening ceremony also featured performances and appearances by the likes of the Pointer Sisters, Lance bass and Olympian Greg Louganis.

Survivor reality star Zavion Kotze is one of the South African representatives at the Games, and plans to compete in 15 sporting events.

“I hope I can make everyone proud and come back with couple of gold medals,” he told Mambaonline before he left for the event. “I would be so grateful if I had the whole nation backing me and showing their support.” (Follow him on Twitter here.)

Launched in 1982, the week-long Gay Games are billed as “an international sporting and cultural event held every four years under the founding principles of Participation, Inclusion and Personal Best.”

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