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Power gays: Alex Davis, the swimmer bringing the Gay Games to London

As the bid to host the 2018 Gay Games heats up, GSN meets the woman leading London’s campaign.
Leading London's bid to host the 2018 Gay Games, one of Alex Davis's swimming highlights has been the Manhattan Island open water relay in 2011.

Small, blonde and deceptively softly spoken, Alex Davis is a force to be reckoned with.

Originally from Portsmouth in the South of England, Davis has been swimming competitively since the age of five.

Still swimming, Davis is now also a sports development officer for local government in London but these days her big challenge (along with co-chair Jonathan Harbourne) is leading the bid to bring the 2018 Gay Games to London.

Up against some serious competition (Paris, Amsterdam, Orlando and Limerick are also all bidding), we spoke with Davis to get an understanding of whether London’s bid for the 2018 Gay Games was a serious contender.

What drew you to coaching and sports administration?

When I was 17 I injured my back and that meant I could no longer train at the level needed to compete nationally - it was a natural progression to do my coaching qualifications and begin teaching and coaching for my club. 

Since then I have worked as a swimming coach teaching everyone from six-month-old babies to octogenarians who have decided that now that they are retired it is time to learn to swim.

It's a very rewarding job as you can really change people's lives by teaching them a new skill, helping them overcome their fears and also help improve isolated people's experiences of London by making them feel part of a team or community within the swimming pool.

Why has it been important to you to continue competing at master's level?

I'll be honest and admit it is the social element of masters swimming that I enjoy the most. I grew up always being part of a sports team and I missed that when I stopped swimming for a while. I love going away to competitions, trying my best in the pool and then going out for dinner afterwards with a group of people who are always there supporting each other to do their best.  

What have been some of your sporting highlights?

The best part of my swimming career has been the open water challenges that I have been able to take on with the Out To Swim open water group. We crossed the English Channel in 2009 as a relay, and then relayed again around Manhattan Island in 2011. We are now making plans to relay across the Catalina straight.

How did you become actively involved in LGBT sports?

After a year abroad I was looking for ways to meet people on my return to London. As I am always comfortable in the pool I looked up LGBT swimming clubs and found Out To Swim. I've been a member now for over 6 years.  

What makes an LGBT sports event different to a ‘mainstream’ sports event?

The emphasis tends to be a lot more on the social side of the sporting experience with LGBT events. That's not to say that the sport isn't taken seriously, but people tend to be a lot friendlier, more willing to stop and chat to strangers as I guess we all feel part of the wider community.

I've discovered that internationally a lot of clubs know of each other from participating in international LGBT events and so it can be a great ice breaker when you are abroad - even when not taking part in a specifically LGBT event.

What makes a great LGBT sports event?

From the sports perspective the same things as any other sports event - making sure the events are licensed with international governing bodies, that your officials are qualified and experienced, that the event venue is well signposted, and that the events team are organized and know what they are doing.

From the social side, I think it is nice if the host organisation helps to introduce teams to each other, encourages evening socials or runs a social event that all the teams can go to as it is great getting to know the people you are competing against.   

What does it take to compete in a Gay Games?  Is it only for elite athletes?

It just takes the courage to attend!

The best thing about the Gay Games is that absolutely anyone can take part. In Cologne we had world records being set in the pool, but also personal goals being achieved with people who had only recently learnt to swim making it through their first 100m race.  

There are a broad range of events from the physical sports like football, swimming, cycling and athletics to the more cerebral bridge, chess and pool tournament. Everyone is welcome to participate in the Gay Games including non-gay participants. Anyone with a desire to take part and compete in the sport or cultural event of their choice is welcome to join in.

How did you get involved in the bid to bring the Gay Games to London in 2018?

Whilst I enjoyed the Gay Games in Cologne I remember thinking how great a London Games would be. With the Olympic Park now built we have some of the world's best sports facilities and the infrastructure to cope with 12,000 visitors.

On returning to London I was delighted to discover that there were plans a foot to organise a bid for London to host the games and I joined the team of volunteers that were working to make this idea a reality.

What does the bidding process involve?

We will need to produce a bid book by the end of February 2013 which will outline our vision for a London Gay Games. If we are shortlisted as a potential host city then in the summer of 2013 the site selection committee from the Federation of the Gay Games (FGG) will visit London and inspect all the venues we propose to use, meet the community and see whether we really are fit to host this event.

The site selection committee then feeds back their findings to the FGG assembly and vote will be taken in the autumn and the winning host city will be announced at the Annual General Assembly in Cleveland in the autumn of 2013.

What makes London a strong contender to host the Gay Games?

We have some world class sports and cultural venues, a strong community of sports clubs and cultural organizations ready and willing to play host to international tournaments and a city with the infrastructure already in place to be able to cope with the size and scale of an event like the Gay Games.  

What would it mean to you personally to successfully bring the Gay Games to London?

Well, I always like to win! But really, if we are successful then it will be a testament to the hard work all the volunteers from London's many sports clubs and cultural organisations have put in to making this a reality.

I've had a great time meeting everyone who has been involved in the bid over the past year and as a result have begun trying new things like ballroom dancing and so for me personally actually winning the right to host the Gay Games will simply be the icing on the cake.

How can people get involved in the campaign to bring the Gay Games to London?

The best thing to do is get in touch! Anyone wanting to get involved can contact us via Twitter or Facebook so there are plenty of ways to follow what we are doing and and find out about our open meetings at which we provide updates and invite more people to get involved. This is a huge project so the more volunteers we have the better!

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