- By Suzanne MerkelsonSuzanne Merkelson is an editorial assistant at Foreign Policy.
In a summer full of sports news, from the World Cup to LeBron James, the event currently taking place in Cologne, Germany is particularly unique: all its participants are gay. The Gay Games, organized by the Federation of Gay Games, is a quadrennial gathering of LGBT athletes, featuring competitions in everything from bodybuilding and bowling to squash and swimming to cultural exhibitions in cheerleading and music. This year’s Games began on July 31 and will end with a marathon, finals in badminton, basketball, soccer, and volleyball, and closing ceremonies on Saturday, August 7. Around 10,000 athletes from more than 70 countries are participating, although the majority of participants come from Germany and the United States.
The first games took place in San Francisco in 1982, founded by openly gay decathlete Tom Waddell, who died of AIDS in 1987. According to the Games’ official website, 1,350 athletes participated in 11 different sports during the 1982 event. The New York Times published the results of men’s wrestling, however, with a policy against the word "gay," referred to them as part of the "Homosexual Games."
This year’s games include participants from less-than-gay-friendly countries including Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Mexico, and Zimbabwe. According to The Guardian, many of these participants have had to use false identities due to fears of persecution at home. Thorsten Moeck, a member of the organization committee, told The Guardian that the Games are an attempt to signal "that the exclusion of gays and lesbians, especially in the sporting world has to end." Moeck pointed to Mexico’s participating soccer team, who are among those keeping their identities secret, noting that the Cologne Games are a "unique opportunity" for them to be part of a gay community.
While the gay rights battle in the U.S. has centered most recently on DADT and marriage equality, Amnesty International released a report on Sunday showing that 76 countries consider merely being gay punishable by law. In seven of these countries, same-sex acts can warrant a death sentence. That number contrasts with only 53 countries whose anti-discrimination laws apply to sexuality and 26 that recognize same-sex marriage.