By Daryl V. Rowland
Special to the Beacon Journal
CLEVELAND: With the anti-gay policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin hanging over the Winter Olympics in Sochi, the Gay Games coming to Northeast Ohio this summer present a stark contrast.
In response, the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights organization, recently made a deeper commitment to the 2014 Gay Games — coming on board as an elite platinum sponsor.
“The Gay Games bring athletes from around the world together to celebrate sport and humanity,” said HRC National Field Director Marty Rouse. “As the Sochi games are plagued with archaic and bigoted laws, the Gay Games show the world that anti-LGBT bigotry and discrimination have no place in the world of sports.”
Tom Nobbe, executive director of the Gay Games in Ohio, said there are 140 LGBT athletes from Russia who have applied for visas to participate in this summer’s Gay Games, but it’s not yet clear how many will be allowed to travel to Cleveland.
“I think many of them want to compete in a situation where they do not have to fear discrimination,” he said.
The first Gay Games in 1982 offered a first opportunity for athletes to be open about their sexualities.
“Now you’re seeing a handful of professional athletes who are openly gay and their sexual orientation doesn’t impact their ability to compete at the highest levels,” he said. “That’s less the case in high school and college athletics, but even that is changing.”
Nobbe said Northeast Ohio has been extremely supportive in its effort to prepare to host the Gay Games this summer.
“Already it’s already been incredible, the support that we’ve gotten from the community. Whether it’s venues like the University of Akron or the Firestone Country Club, or government, corporate supporters..”
Northeast Ohioans can participate in the Gay Games this summer as spectators, athletes or by volunteering.
For those wishing to compete in one or more of the Games’ 36 events, the deadline for registration is at the end of May, with a late fee added for those who register in June. There are events for all levels of skill and athleticism, including some like table tennis, badminton, billiards, and even darts for people who many not be in marathon condition.
Nobbe said one would be hard pressed to not be able to find a sporting event to enter.
“As we like to say about the Gay Games, ‘You don’t have to be good. You don’t have to be gay. You just have to be 18 or older,’ ” Nobbe said. “Come and experience it.”
Volunteers are needed immediately and throughout the preparation leading up the games that is expected to attract more than 10,000 participants.
“This is a special opportunity,” Nobbe said. “The 2018 games will be in Paris, and 2022 will most likely be in Brazil or somewhere in South or Central America. So it will be a long time before the games will come back to the United States, let alone Ohio.”
Anybody who registers for the games from Northeast Ohio gets to participate for free in the opening ceremony and the march into Quicken Loans Arena representing the region.
“It’s always the highlight of the whole thing. It’s really fun. And they get into the closing ceremony, too,” Nobbe said.
For more information or to register for the Gay Games, visit www.gg9cle.com.