LGBTI global news 24-7

Pan Idraet: Europe’s gay and lesbian sporting powerhouse

Delivering 17 different sports to the LGBT community of Copenhagen, Pan Idraet continues to plan for the future - its 30th anniversary is just around the corner
Pan Idraet offers 17 sports to the LGBT community of Copenhagen in Denmark.
Photo by Stephen Freiheit.

Gay Star News meets with Pan Idraet’s chairperson Paul Brummitt to get the low-down on one of Denmark’s leading community sports organizations.

You cover an enormous breadth of sports, 17 in all, what are some of the logistical challenges for Pan Idraet?

The main challenge is access to facilities. Like most other sports clubs in Denmark we have the status as a public education organization which means we can get free access to sports facilities from the City of Copenhagen.

However clubs for children and the disabled get priority, so it is a battle every year to retain the best times in the pool, on the pitch, and in the sports halls. On the positive side having capacity issues means we are a successful club!

Are all of the sports equally strong and well-supported or are there some sports that are stronger than others?

The largest is aquatics, which goes by the name of Copenhagen Mermates. There are over 150 members who swim, play water polo and do triathlon. Then come badminton and dancing each with around 100 members, down to the smallest which is currently golf, but they are growing fast. Astanga Yoga is also a success story – their membership is increasing and their prominence in the club has become quite large despite starting barely two years ago.

Thirty years is a remarkable milestone for Pan Idraet and must make it one of the oldest LGBT sports organizations in the world. Is there still a need for Pan Idraet in the Denmark of today?

Undoubtedly yes. Just take Pan Football – it’s quite common for them to experience homophobia when they play straight teams. We even took the issue to the sports minister in order to get the Danish Football Association to come to a meeting about it. Also for many members, we are simply a social club for the sport they like to do – there are pensioners’ clubs, women’s clubs, clubs for pregnant women – so why not one for us?

What is the outreach program that Pan Idraet is leading?

There are two main aspects to our support: we effectively doubled our membership fee to the European Gay and Lesbian Sport Federation by paying one additional euro per member, earmarked for outreach support.

We also helped the Eurogames in Budapest by paying travel costs for the former security director of World Outgames 2009 to travel to Hungary and advise the organizers – something which proved to be essential given the right-wing extremist homophobes there are there. They tried to disrupt the event, people were spat at in the street, we needed masses of police and security at all the venues and even some hotels.

What are some of the benefits for people that get involved in sport?

Surveys show that gay men over 45 in particular have a high risk of poor health and even suicide. One of the theories is that unlike straight men, most do not have children so they have no reason to stop their 20-something party and drinking habits once they reach their 30s and into their 40s.

Loneliness is a second key factor – friends you only know from the bar of your local pub are fine, but people easily get stuck in a social circle that revolves around drinking and smoking. Joining a sports club helps change that. Of course, many of us still drink, and a few smoke, but having the social circle that regular sport provides is a great way to combat loneliness and get the social contact away from the bar stool.

As for the smoking, it’s clear that peer pressure is a factor in whether or not you smoke (or start/stop).

Interestingly, in swimming we can count the smokers on one hand – and that’s out of 150 people. In football there is a far higher percentage – why?

There are other, more tangible benefits of course. We already have discounts from shops, an acupuncturist, a physiotherapist etc. We are also about to launch our new Pan Plus scheme of member benefits, which will include something very interesting and attractive we’re not allowed to mention in public – suffice to say that it will very likely contribute to a big jump in membership numbers and an increase in fitness levels among Copenhagen’s LGBT community.

What will the celebrations for the 30th anniversary involve?

The main event will be Pan Games at the end of August in 2014. It will be a weekend of sports tournaments, culture and fun. The Copenhagen MIX film festival and Copenhagen Pride will both be planning their events around the weekend, and the local political lobby organization LGBT Denmark is considering some sort of human rights event at the same time too. It won’t be the same scale as World Outgames in 2009, which was held here, but it will most definitely repeat the atmosphere.

What have been some of the key milestones or highlights during Pan Idraet’s 30 years?

The two highlights have to be when we held Eurogames in 2003 and World Outgames in 2009.

The club was founded as Homo Swimming in 1984 at the height of the AIDS panic – it’s strange to think today that gay men suddenly became unwelcome in regular swimming clubs – and how illogical it was that having a separate lane for the club in the pool meant that fears were dispelled! HIV can’t possibly cross the lane rope!

For a year or so after World Outgames, the club suffered from exhaustion. People concentrated exclusively on their own sport, there was very little interaction between the various sport sections and hardly anyone turned up to pride to march under our banner.

However with our current board things are really moving. We have digitalized member administration and finance, integrated it with a new website, collaborated on projects with other LGBT organizations in the city and really built a strong international profile.

What does the future hold for Pan Idraet?

The sky is the limit – we have just added hockey and are working on boxing. We’d love to have a clubhouse as a base but realistically, rents are so high in the city that we would need to increase the membership fees far too much to be able to pay.

Analyzing our potential membership base, we really ought to be able to triple our numbers – but capacity issues in city facilities makes that difficult. We are trying to get access to facilities in a neighboring municipality – Frederiksberg – but it’s an uphill battle as they are pretty conservative there and seem to be worried at the thought of hundreds of non-straight people running around their sports halls! Fortunately we have a great lawyer who works for us pro bono, so our application is on his desk now.

Pan Idraet will be celebrating their 30th anniversary with the Pan Games in August 2014.

Comment on a news story