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Media Covers Gay Games VIII in Cologne, Germany

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This week has been full of substantial and exciting media coverage of the Gay Games VIII, an international event taking place this year in Cologne  in western Germany.

Since July 31, gay and lesbian athletes have been engaged in a diverse array of sports, from basketball and swimming to figure skating and powerlifting . The Guardian noted that many participants are amateurs, and many take measures to protect their identities and avoid persecution in their home countries after the Games are over. Nevertheless, the opening ceremony was full of music, emotion, and enthusiasm, and was a fantastic prelude to the start of the sporting events. The total expected number of competitors is around 10,000, from about 70 different countries.

The Windy City Times profiled Rob Smitherman from Chicago, who for the second time is both participating in and working at the Gay Games as the sports manager. He commented, “Until we have equality throughout the world we need to offer gay sports, especially the Gay Games, to show that we are here, and we deserve to be treated fairly and without discrimination.” He calls the Gay Games a great experience, and emphasizes the kindness and helpfulness of the staff and attendees. Wayne Belkosky, a Canadian hockey player, agreed in an interview with Canada’s Xtra , explaining that athletes here “don't have to be fearful.... They can just be open and be themselves, and play the sport they love … I’m fortunate to be part of it, and I appreciate it.”

Such positive thoughts would please Dr. Tom Waddell, the founder of the event, who once expressed his wish for the Gay Games to serve as “a vehicle for education and change regarding the perception of homosexuality.”  Dr. Waddell died of AIDS in 1987, but not before leaving a significant legacy of commitment to diversity. The Federation of Gay Games continues to improve the representation of various groups of people, and in late 2007 set goals to increase the percentage of registered female competitors . The Federation also provides scholarships for individuals who are particularly oppressed and underrepresented as a result of their gender identity or sexual orientation.

The mission of the Gay Games is gaining momentum as they become more popular in both the LGBT and mainstream communities. The Games have taken place in varied cities every four years since 1982, and in the past have been hosted in places like Amsterdam, San Francisco, and Sydney. They are seen as a positive alternative to the Olympic Games, in that they permit individuals to participate regardless of age, ability, race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, skill level, and other factors. In addition to the sporting aspect, there are many cultural events and social gatherings to promote positive interaction among the attendees. According to On Top Magazine, even Australia’s Olympic swimmer Matthew Mitcham and Germany’s foreign minister Guido Westerwelle were in attendance.

One of the more stressful parts of this year’s Games is the question of where it will be hosted next time, and by whom. After weeks of unfolding tensions, Outsports.com reports that the original bidding organization to host the Games, the Cleveland Synergy Foundation, has lost its license to do so. According to the Washington Blade , the Games will most likely still be held in Cleveland, but, as of now, with an unknown organization. Cleveland had beaten both Boston and Washington D.C. as the next host city.

A spectacular closing ceremony on August 7th will mark the end of the Games, until the next event takes place in 2014 in Cleveland, Ohio.

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