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10,000 athletes head to Paris for the Gay Games – and here is why

10,000 athletes head to Paris for the Gay Games – and here is why

Some of the over 800 Team GB athletes heading for the Gay Games in Paris

The Gay Games commences in Paris, France, this weekend. The Gay Games first took place in San Francisco in 1982 and returns to a different global city every four years.

The 2018 event will has just over 10,000 registered participants from 91 different countries.

The country with the highest number of competitors this year is the United States (3,362), followed by France (2,340).

Some athletes represent countries where it is illegal to be gay, including 11 from Algeria, three from Bangladesh, two from Cameroon and one each from Jamaica And Egypt. Fifty-one participants will represent Russia, a country where the ‘promotion’ of LGBT life is illegal.

There are 36 sport competitions and 14 cultural events. The latter includes the likes of cheerleading, ballet and choirs.

Triathlon competitor Chris Barclay
Triathlon competitor Chris Barclay (Photo: David Hudson)

‘Sport is just a great way to connect with people’

A Gay Games veteran is Charles Barclay, 56, an architect who lives in South London. Barclay entered his first Gay Games in Amsterdam in 1998 and has participated in several, as well as the Out Games (a rival event).

‘I love doing these things,’ say the British Triathlon competitor. ‘It’s really nice to meet other gay people who are doing your sport.

‘It’s not that easy to ferret them out in your cities because people tend to belong to their own clubs and do their own thing, so it’s like a real celebration of our community. And usually the competition’s of quite a high standard, so if you win a medal, you know you’ve earned it. It’s just a really great atmosphere.’

Barclay says making friends is one of the benefits of participating in sport and attending the Gay Games.

‘The last thing I did in Stockholm, we made some Norwegian friends and have done races together in Norway. They’ll be in Paris as well, so we’ll hook up with them.

‘My own triathalon club, we’ve got a few gay people and it’s a very relaxed club and people feel totally at home there. Sport is just a great way to connect with people, whether they’re gay or straight. It doesn’t matter what standard you are. Get in there and give it a go.’

Members of the London Otters Rowing Club
Members of the London Otters Rowing Club (Photo: David Hudson)

Out for Sport

I speak to Barclay on the roof of the London headquarters of Nomura, overlooking the Thames. He and other Team GB athletes have gathered for a mass photo shoot ahead of travelling to Paris. Out for Sport, a grass roots voluntary organisation run by London’s LGBTI sports clubs, arranged the pre-games gathering.

The Gay Games boasts a very inclusive participation policy and anyone is welcome to apply. Many take part a members of teams or recognized sports clubs.

‘This hockey club really transcends sport’

Bailey Aldridge, 22, only joined the London Royals Hockey team two months ago, having not previously played before. She says she couldn’t have imagined she’d be playing in France so soon after joining the team.

Belinda Armstrong and Bailey Aldridge, London Royals Hockey Club
Belinda Armstrong and Bailey Aldridge, London Royals Hockey Club (Photo: David Hudson)

‘I joined and went to a mixed training session with everyone, and then I went to the dinner that evening, and they sort of roped me into to coming along to Paris with them. So here I am! I’m really excited for it.’

Her teammate, Belinda ‘Bee’ Armstrong, joined the Royals four years ago. She played hockey when younger in her native South Africa, but had not played in seven years when she joined.

‘I think the community within the London Royals is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before,’ she says.

‘This hockey club really transcends sport. I think hockey is the medium we use, but everyone’s welcome, no matter what level you are. We’ve got people who have played national league hockey, right down to people who have just started. It’s not a barrier to entry at all.’

Adam Heathcote, Jim Hearson and Elliot Tilbey of the London Titans FC soccer club
Adam Heathcote, Jim Hearson and Elliot Tilbey of the London Titans FC soccer club (Photo: David Hudson)

Like family

Echoing her sentiments are members of the London-based Titans Football Club. Adam Heathcote, 24, joined the team a couple of years ago and says he discovered more than just men to kick a ball around with.

‘I now live with a couple of team mates, and they’re two of my best friends.’

It’s more like family?

‘That’s pretty much what it is!’

‘Literally, in some cases,’ says teammate Elliot Tilbey, 28. ‘Two of our players just got engaged!’

The 10th Gay Games runs from 4-12 August at locations across Paris.

See also

https://www.gaystarnews.com/article/china-is-trying-to-stop-taiwan-from-flying-its-flag-at-the-gay-games/

https://www.gaystarnews.com/article/transgender-rugby-player-had-blood-spat-in-his-mouth/

https://www.gaystarnews.com/article/pro-wrestler-mike-parrow/