Organising the Sydney 2002 Gay Games was a thankless task for co-chairs Bev Lange and Peter Bailey.
It could never be doubted that they both put in an inordinate amount of time and effort to make the Games a success.
And they were -“ to a large extent. The Games themselves went off almost without a hitch, and the sense of pride and fun that descended on gay Sydney during the duration of the Games is something most readers will remember vividly.
It should also be remembered that Lange and Bailey were volunteers. They may have received a few meagre perks, like a box seat during the opening ceremony, but ultimately the Games exacted a heavy price from them, for no financial benefit. They lost friendships and, in some people’s eyes, they lost standing within the community.
Yesterday, Lange described being Sydney 2002 co-chair as physically and emotionally, a hard slog.
She admitted herself and Bailey had on a number of occasions considered resigning from their positions.
It was a much harder job than I had ever envisaged, she said.
But they persevered.
Why? Probably for lots of reasons. Because it would have been an embarrassment on a global scale for Sydney to default on the Games; because so much had been invested already, in terms of time and money; because major events develop their own sense of momentum; because, with Mardi Gras going down, the Games became super-invested with meaning; and because there was always the chance that they could pull it off. Maybe they thought the government or a benefactor would come in at the eleventh hour; more likely, they crossed their fingers and hoped tickets would sell, sell, sell.
But they didn’t. Not enough, anyway. One criticism that can fairly be levelled against the board of Sydney 2002 Gay Games is their refusal to take the advice from every experienced gay and lesbian party promoting organisation in Sydney about the state of the market for dance parties. Mardi Gras, Pride and ACON all sounded warnings, but Sydney 2002 ploughed on with a strategy that saw them rely heavily on income from ticket sales. They said they were different from the other parties, because their target market was global rather than local. But when it came to the crunch, who did they plead with to go out and buy tickets? Us. Sydney’s gay and lesbian community. And it was the rich elder members of the community (one of whom was Bailey) they looked to for the personal guarantees which helped them over their pre-Games cash-crunch.
The strategy Sydney 2002 seems to have followed was crash through or crash. Like the Olympics before them, the Gay Games came to be seen as something inviolable; something that had to work and -“ therefore -“ had to be supported by everybody. Fair reporting was recast as negative media by Lange. Dissenters and jaded volunteers were dismissed as cranks and crackpots.
Maybe there’s something about the very scope of the Gay Games that requires this all or nothing approach. (A representative from a Montr? community organisation told this journalist during Games time that the organising committee for the 2006 Gay Games were already trying to call all the shots in Montr?’s lesbian and gay community -“ including the dates for that year’s Diverscit?estival.) But one can’t help thinking that a more flexible, open and consultative approach to media, sponsors, partners and the community itself may have given Sydney 2002 a better final result -“ particularly, in the case of the community, after the demise of Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.
Then again, it could be argued that the seeds for the Sydney 2002 Gay Games were sown on rocky soil from the outset. The bidding team, which won the right for Sydney to host the Games in 1997, did not have promises of extensive government support (unlike Montr?), and they did not have the blessing of gay and lesbian Sydney’s principal community organisation, Mardi Gras -“ indicative, perhaps, of a lack of community support for the idea of the Games in the first place.
Bailey picked up on this idea when Sydney 2002 entered administration in December.
Gay Games wasn’t really a product that people knew too much about down here, he said. The sporting bodies had been to Amsterdam and New York, but the community couldn’t know what the Gay Games were going to do in the Sydney environment. I don’t think the sponsors knew to what extent this would consume Sydney and become such a visible and tangible event.
Now, of course, we all do, and it’s too late. Doubtless there will be a large Australian contingent going to Montr? in 2006 -“ but the chance of an Australian city embarking on a project like hosting the Gay Games ever again seems remote in the extreme.