The competitors emerge dripping with sweat. The building is filled with the shrill squeak of shoes on wood, the thwack of the racquets, the yelling of swear words in a handful of different languages.

But for all of that, the participants in the tournament finish their games grinning, clapping their opponents on the back and congratulating them on their best moves. Welcome to the Outgames’ squash tournament – where camaraderie seems more important than the final score.

German competitor Donald Wehmann, who lost today in the last few minutes of play to his opponent, Bryan Thelbourne from Adelaide, explains the difference between gay and lesbian-oriented squash and mainstream squash tournaments.

“Gay squash is social squash – it’s more important than winning or losing,” he says.

Despite the down-to-the-wire finish, Donald is upbeat about his loss – finishing the match by giving Bryan a heartfelt hug. “The best man won today,” he says with a grin.

Mark Fairey, Outgames committee treasurer, says the attitude on the court today is a fair cry from how bad it can get.

“Squash is a game where [the players] can get quite close – there are racquets flying and you’re bumping into each other, so it can get very tense,” he says.

“These guys are finishing the game laughing, though – I’ve definitely seen a lot worse!”

But while the competition may be friendly, that by no means indicates that the competitors are going easy on each other.

Outgames squash coordinator Mike Briden, who has played at Outgames and Gay Games squash tournaments in Sydney, Montreal, Chicago and Cologne, says the overall standard of playing at this year’s Outgames is ìvery goodî.

“Over half [of the participants] are playing in the A division, whereas most people will usually play in B or C,” he says.

Mike says he actually met Mark, his partner, indirectly through squash – he was at the Freyberg Pool, saw squash gear in Mark’s bag and struck up a conversation about their shared love of the sport. They’ve now been together for 16 years.

But Mike says he and Mark don’t play squash together – “We used to, but I’d always win!” he laughs. “We do play doubles tennis together, but not very much. It’s not recommended for couples!”

| Anna Loren, www.gayexpress.co.nz

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