A disarmingly frank Bev Lange admits she’s nervous while her more upbeat colleague Geoffrey Williams says they have good reason to be confident. So the saga of Sydney 2002 Gay Games continues as the organisers prepare to mark 200 days (from 16 April) to the Games opening ceremony.
But the organisation that has been plagued since its inception with budget controversies, management changes, and accusations of incompetence seems at last to be on track to deliver.
I’m feeling very confident, Games CEO Geoffrey Williams told the Star this week, and we have good reason to feel confident because a lot has changed over the last eight months.
Williams admitted that 12 months ago when he took over as CEO and Lange took over as co-chair, winding up the struggling organisation was a real possibility.
If this organisation needed to be wound up, then we were prepared to wind it up because our livelihood was on the line and everything was on the line. We were prepared to do that if we didn’t think we could pull it off, Williams revealed.
But after a thorough review of budgets and consultations with key stakeholders, Williams and the new board, under co-chairs Lange and Peter Bailey, decided that they had the resources to deliver what the Sydney bid team had promised the world in 1996. Perceived community and government support were crucial to that decision.
Although they are happy with preparations so far, organisers agree that there is no room for complacency.
Look, to be honest I’m nervous, Lange admitted. It’s a daunting task and every meeting we attend, the Games are revealed to be more challenging and more demanding. But I think we’re in pretty good shape.
Our greatest worry when we took over in May last year was whether we could cash flow the staff situation and we’ve been able to do that through good registrations and, increasingly, through higher than expected levels of government [staff] secondments, Lange said.
Although the Carr government hasn’t budged in its refusal to provide cash sponsorship for the Games, it has provided nearly one million dollars of in-kind support. This includes the provision of staff worth over half a million dollars, rent-free accommodation for the Games headquarters and waivers and significant discounts for venue hire.
Williams believes that registration figures, which currently stand at 8,760 of the total projected pool of 14,500 participants, demonstrate that gay and lesbian sporting groups throughout the world are now 100 percent behind the Sydney Games.
Although organisers experienced a blip in registrations in the week after 11 September, they quickly recovered and have continued to exceed expectations since early-bird registrations closed last October.
Controversy over the Games hasn’t been restricted to the cut and thrust of Sydney gay and lesbian community politics. Last year the Sydney 2002 organisers came under attack from the then co-president of the International Federation of Gay Games Bill Wassmer, who told media outlets both here and in the United States that the Games might be taken from Sydney.
However, this week Will-iams was able to cite Feder-ation support as one of the critical factors in Sydney 2002’s new-found confidence.
The real moment when things turned around was in the week following the Federation’s annual meeting in Johannesburg last October, Williams recalled. We were cross-examined by all the various committees and at the end of that there was a huge level of confidence from the Federation itself [which up until then had] been holding back support -¦ In the week following that meeting we went from about 3,000-plus registrations to 6,000-plus -¦ that was the Federation delegates going home and telling all their teams: -˜Yeah, it’s going to be great: book your ticket.’
Although registrations are looking good, Games organisers still face big challenges in their final 200 days.
Sponsorship is still significantly below expectation and the travel industry is still nervous about overall visitor numbers.
Both the international crisis following the 11 September attacks and the collapse of several local companies such as Ansett have made the acquisition of sponsorship difficult.
September 11 -¦ slowed things down in the States, but Ansett took with it a whole bunch of sporting teams like Australian cricket that had to then go out and replace that sponsorship with someone else, Lange said. That took a number of potential sponsors out of the market.
Although Lange and Williams both expressed confidence that the Games will sign more sponsors in the next few months, they say their budgets do not depend on this. Two factors make them rest easy.
In their current budget, new sponsorship accounts for less than a million dollars of their projected $13.5m budget. This has been adjusted down from an original estimation that they could raise a third of their income from the corporate sector. Secondly, organisers have received assurances from the State government that the Games can expect further in-kind support if even these conservative sponsorship targets are not met.
We have at this moment a balanced, break-even budget, Williams said. There is a sponsorship target in there that is absolutely achievable but if we don’t achieve it, we have extra [value-in-kind] support that we can get from government that would cover it.
More controversially, Sydney 2002 is now relying more heavily on projected income from both ticket sales to events like the opening and closing ceremonies and a series of five special dance parties. Current budget estimates expect $7.2m from these sources. (see story page 8)
Ticket sales will in part depend on the number of international visitors the Games attract. Initial studies commissioned by the Games bid team and the Australian Tourist Commission indicated that organisers could expect between 25,000 and 40,000 international and interstate visitors for the Games. It is still unclear whether these expectations will be met given the recent international downturn in the tourism industry post-11 September. (see storypage 8)
Perhaps the biggest challenge is selling the Games to the local community. But with a marketing onslaught set to begin with the release of the ceremony details and ticketing plans at the end of May, organisers are confident that interest in the Games will keep on growing.
In spite of her nerves Lange believes her team will deliver a benchmark Games.
I think we’re offering fantastic venues, our cultural program is outstanding and I think the conference program will add a layer that no Gay Games has had, Lange said.
She’s confident there really is something for everyone.
Whether it’s a dance party or an opening ceremony or whether you go and watch the track and field this really is a top level event.
THE 2002 GAY GAMES COUNTDOWN
16 April 200 days to go until the opening ceremony
30 April Scholarship applications close
29 May Launch of big ticket items (opening and closing ceremonies, parties, selected sporting and cultural events), including unveiling of ceremonies personnel
25 July 100 days to go until the opening ceremony
31 July Close of registrations
August Launch of full cultural program
25 October Cultural festival commences
2 November Opening ceremony
9 November Closing ceremony
SYDNEY 2002 GAY GAMES IN A NUTSHELL
The Sydney 2002 Gay Games will be launched at an opening ceremony at Sydney Football Stadium on 2 November 2002. Ceremonies director Ignatius Jones has previous experience as a key part of the team that produced the Sydney 2000 Olympics opening ceremony. The Gay Games will wind up with a closing ceremony on 9 November. The combined crowd capacity for the two ceremonies is 72,000.
– Gay Games overall budget: $13.5m
– Number of athletes registered to the Games so far: 8,760
– Number of countries represented: 46
– Country with highest registrations: USA (3,467)
– Percentage of registrants so far that are female: 28.3%
– Average age of participants: 39.8 years (ranging from 19 to 88 years old)
– Number of team names registered so far: 489
– Total number of visitors expected to NSW: 36,500
– Expected economic impact for NSW: $100m
– Number of sporting venues to be used: 45
– Number of volunteers needed: 3,000
– Volunteers who have expressed interest so far: 1,188
– Sporting events that have reached target registrations: sailing, swimming, badminton, golf
– Sporting events approaching their target registrations: marathon, track and field, cycling
– Number of cultural festival participants registered: 1,600
– Number of marching band members expected: 200
– 800 scholarships are to be awarded to targeted special needs participants including people from the Asia-Pacific region, people from first-nation cultures and people from emerging gay and lesbian communities