2,000 athletes expected to participate in Hong Kong’s embattled Gay Games, 10k fewer than originally hoped

Around 2,000 athletes are expected to participate in the upcoming 2023 Gay Games, according to the organisers of the international LGBT-friendly sporting event. However, the updated number of participants is significantly lower than the original estimation of 12,000.

Lisa Lam, co-chair of Gay Games Hong Kong (GGHK), told local media during a luncheon on Wednesday that 2,000 participants from 40 countries will join the Gay Games set to take place in 3 to 11 November, including corporate teams.

gay games 2023
Photo: Gay Games 11 Hong Kong 2023, via Facebook.

“The registration number is good for now. We will keep up the momentum,” Lam said in Chinese.

The athletes mainly come from Asian cities and western countries such as the UK, France and Germany. Registration for the event, which aims to promote diversity, will close in mid-October. Organisers also hope to recruit 2,000 volunteers.

In 2021, GGHK estimated that over 12,000 people from around the world would take part in the competition, bringing HK$1 billion worth of revenue to the city, along with 3,000 volunteers and an audience of 75,000.

In a press release on Wednesday, GGHK said it was “offering fee waivers for younger people below the age of 25, as well as migrant workers, domestic helpers, and minorities, on a first-come-first-served basis.”

Gay Games Hong Kong 2023 medal designs
Gay Games Hong Kong 2023 medal designs. Photo: GGHK.

It also introduced the design of the bronze, silver and gold models.

Embattled games

The event has been hampered by a lack of government cooperation, internal strife and the Covid-19 pandemic. Earlier this year, three sports were axed due to a low number of sign-ups. GGHK also expressed disappointment over the Hong Kong Football Club’s decision to withdraw its venue for the football finals.

Hong Kong emerged as the chosen host for the 2022 Gay Games in 2017, prevailing over competing bids from Washington DC and Guadalajara, Mexico. It marks the first time in the 40-year history of the games that they have been handed to an Asian city.

gay games
Hong Kong representatives at the 2018 Gay Games held in Paris, France. Photo: Gay Games Hong Kong.

The competition was postponed to this year owing to the pandemic, and – last year – organisers announced that the Games will be co-hosted by Hong Kong and the Mexican city of Guadalajara.

Lam said that, unlike other sporting events, GGHK had not received any sponsorship from the Hong Kong government. She said that Guadalajara received sponsorship from the authorities and local tourism bureau. When Paris hosted the Gay Games in 2018, the French president, the mayor of Paris, and the local tourism bureau contributed financially.

But there are social and cultural differences, and it is difficult to make comparisons, Lam added.

Whilst same-sex sexual activity was legalised in 1991, Hong Kong has no laws to protect the LGBTQ community from discrimination in employment, the provision of goods and services, or from hate speech. Equal marriage remains illegal, although a 2023 survey showed that 60 per cent of Hongkongers support it. Despite repeated government appeals, courts have granted those who married – or who entered civil partnerships – abroad some recognition in terms of tax, spousal visas and public housing.

Attacks from pro-establishment camp

Since the games were announced, pro-establishment parties and anti-LGBT groups have been on the attack.

Junius Ho, a pro-Beijing lawmaker, claimed during a Legislative Council meeting in June 2021 that Hong Kong did not want the event’s “dirty money”, adding that he was worried it might lead to the legalisation of same-sex marriage.

gay games protest
Representatives from local groups protesting against Hong Kong’s hosting of the Gay Games on June 21, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Pro-establishment lawmaker Priscilla Leung claimed at the same meeting that the GGHK might “divide society” and cast doubt on whether the government would impart the same efforts to promote heterosexual monogamy.

In June 2023, representatives from several groups staged a demonstration outside government headquarters, holding up banners that referred to the Gay Games as “indecent” and “obscene.”

Lawmakers Regina Ip and Adrian Ho from the pro-Beijing New People Party are among the few legislative members who have expressed support for Hong Kong’s hosting of the Gay Games.

The local authorities have not provided any special provisions or welcomed the games. At the time of the city’s successful bid in 2017, then-chief executive Carrie Lam said only that she “noted” the news, as she made reference to the “same sex games.” Statutory bodies such as the tourism board, InvestHK and the Equal Opportunities Commission have, however, given their backing.

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