Gay Games organizers dodge responsibility for fiasco

by Lorrie Kim
August 5, 1998

Realizing that the Dutch national skating association failed to obtain an ISU sanction in time, and unwilling to hold a non-ISU competition, organizers cancelled the competitions the day they were supposed to start. Skaters were asked to perform in non-competitive "public practices."

The Gay Games skating organizers continue to finger-point and dodge responsibility. At first, they vilified the International Skating Union (ISU) for refusing to make an exception for the Gay Games and sanction this competition, even though sanction was not sought in time. Their version of the story even led the mayor of Amsterdam, Schelto Patijn, to state that "the people at ISU are bastards" (Edwin Reinerie, "Amsterdam Mayor Plays Gay Golf," Gay Games Newsletter, August 4, 1998). While the ISU has earned many insults honestly, this was not one of them.

In addition, many assume that the ISU refused sanction out of homophobia. The ISU's possible homophobia is not the issue; the issue is procedure. The 1994 New York Gay Games handled the sanctioning issue properly, and skaters were able to participate without losing their ISU eligibility.

Now that the public and the press realize it's not the ISU's fault, the Gay Games organizers are pointing the finger at the KNSB (Koninklijke Nederlandsche Schaatsenrijders Bond), the Dutch skating association. They point out that the KNSB, on behalf of the Gay Games, promised to seek sanction properly, and failed to do so. The Gay Games successfully sued the KNSB for this failure. But they do not seem to be acquainted with the PR tactic of taking responsibility anyway and apologizing to the athletes.

Meanwhile, the airline KLM (primary sponsor of the Amsterdam Gay Games) is lending what PR expertise it can to this fiasco. All skating participants will be awarded a "special" medal, "stating participating is more important than winning." This consolatory gesture, doomed to inadequacy through no fault of KLM's, only highlights the larger question behind the whole mess: Why didn't the Amsterdam skating organizers originally agree, according to the Gay Games founding philosophy, that participating is more important than winning? If they had subscribed to this belief, perhaps they would have chosen to run the event as an all-inclusive adult competition, instead of gunning all-or-nothing for an ISU sanction (in what appears to have been an attempt to "win" legitimacy), and this conflict could have been avoided.

While the KNSB does indeed bear responsibility for much of this fiasco, I'd like to hear the Gay Games skating organizers 1) apologize to the skaters, 2) admit they were wrong to relegate lower-level adult skaters to second-class status, and acknowledge that this partly caused the problem, 3) take responsibility for cancelling the competition instead of blaming the ISU, and 4) stop taking potshots at the ISU in the wording of press releases.

Update: August 7, 1998

In my editorial of two days ago, I wished that the Gay Games skating organizers would take responsibility for cancelling the competition, instead of blaming it on the ISU and the Dutch skating federation. I am happy to say it appears that they have. According to reports, it was announced at a skating "public practice" that the sanctioning conflict was due to errors on "both sides," not just the ISU.

Furthermore, the organizers seemed to recognize the importance of same-sex pairs and dance, even when skated at the lower levels by recreational athletes. Same-sex programs were scheduled for prime time performances, and apparently garnered passionate crowd support.

It is still a mystery why the Dutch federation waited until past deadline to apply for ISU sanction. Let us pray that the Sydney organizers learn from these mistakes and run a bona fide skating competition in 2002!

Update: August 16, 1998

It appears that I was hasty in thinking that the Gay Games skating organizers took responsibility. According to skater Laura Moore, during the "practices" it was announced that the athletes were skating in protest of the ISU. Moore and many others had no intention of protesting the ISU; it was a propagandistic lie. Such announcements served only to further inflame popular sentiment scapegoating the ISU. This sentiment was apparently in evidence on posters and t-shirts from audience members, bearing obscene anti-ISU slogans. I find it reprehensible that the organizers, far from setting the record right, actively encouraged this scapegoating.

Furthermore, Moore stated that she wrote a press release saying the conflict was not the ISU's fault, and brought it to the media center at the Friendship Village for distribution, where she was told they would photocopy and distribute -- once they read it. After they read it, she was turned away and the press release was not distributed. This further supports the conclusion that the ISU was sacrificed in a bungling attempt by the Amsterdam organizers to garner good P.R. at the expense of the truth.

The Amsterdam organizers betrayed a thorough ignorance of the sport of figure skating, starting with their contradictory desires to force the skaters into ISU rules and to include same-sex pairs. This ignorance caused them to see homophobia in the ISU's refusal to grant a last-minute sanction, when anybody familiar with the ISU recognizes that the refusal was standard procedure, not discriminatory. The consequences included the loss of four years' hopes, training costs and effort on the part of the skaters; financial loss for the Gay Games; a torrent of bad publicity; ill will from the ISU and other official skating bodies; and most of all, the complete loss of credibility in the eyes of anybody who follows the sport. In the future, the organizing of Gay Games skating events must not be allowed to fall into such ignorant hands.

Back to Menu