Saturday 25 May 2013

On Track to the Outgames - Part 6

After travelling around the world for three years the Outgames ventured onto European soil for the first time in 2009 for the 2nd World Outgames in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Copenhagen was no stranger to international lgbt sport. In 2003 it hosted the 8th EuroGames, and it is probably based on the success of those that the bid to host the 2nd World Outgames was launched. There is certainly more of a coincidental similarity between the logos of the 2003 EuroGames (below top) and the 2009 Outgames (below bottom). The 2009 games were arranged to coincide with Copenhagen Pride week.

As with previous Outgames there were three component elements – a conference, the sport, and an arts festival. The bid to host the games was submitted to the governing body, the Gay and Lesbian International Sports Association (GLISA) in early 2006. The bid was accepted and contracts signed in the following November.

The conference, which at previous Outgames had been held before the main sporting events ran simultaneously with the games for the first time. Bearing the title “Love of Freedom – Freedom to Love” the conference was held at the city’s new concert hall. It ran for three days and covered the same lgbt issues and concerns as in previous conferences though with a European focus. Key speakers included Georgina Beyer, the world’s first transsexual MP, American activist Cleve Jones, former NBA star John Amaechi, and Korean actor-comedian Hong Seok-Cheon.

The opening ceremony took place outside the city hall in the city square. A special stage was constructed for the speeches and entry of the athletes. The parade was filled with the usual colour and glitter and (unlike the Olympics) the rainbow flag, an integral part of the community, wasn’t banned. Teams from 92 nations took part with Denmark, naturally, being the biggest. There were also 22 teams consisting of just one team member. Officially there were 5,518 competing athletes.

The mayor of Copenhagen welcomed the athletes to the city and even the city’s cathedral was decked out in rainbow colours. Even a heavy downfall of rain during a performance by aerial artists failed to dampen spirits, which were high.

But the opening day was marred by a homophobic attack on three men after they left the ceremony. Two men were arrested, both of whom already had criminal records, and they were held in custody for the remainder of the Outgames. The three victims, who were treated in hospital, could not remember what happened.

A second incident during the track events also shocked the athletes. Just before the start of the 4x200 meters relay an explosive device was thrown onto the track injuring American runner Dean Koga. Two more devices were thrown during the police search which followed. Athletes decided to continue competing and not let that sort of stupidity put them off. Dean Koga was treated in hospital to remove shrapnel and received a heroic welcome back on track the next day – and he won a gold medal in the 200 meters.

What shocked people the most about the attacks was that they took place in Denmark, one of the most gay-tolerant countries in Europe. This tolerance was highlighted many times during the lgbt conference. It was even more brought into focus with the presence of Axel Axgil, now in his 90s, the surviving partner of the world’s first same-sex couple to marry legally. He appeared at several events over the course of the Outgames and received a standing ovation at the opening ceremony.

Next time I’ll take a look at the sporting competition in more detail, and at the cultural festival.

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