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History Of The Gay Games

History Of The Gay Games

You’ve probably heard about the Gay Games, but you might not be too sure what it actually is, or if it has anything to do with the Olympics. Well just before the 10th Gay Games come to Paris this August, we decided to go back in time and bring you up to speed on its long and proud sporting history.

History Of The Gay Games ROMEO

The Complicated Tale

We couldn’t explore the history of the games without mentioning its inspirational and heroic founder, Tom Waddell. We also touch on the negotiation breakdown between the Gay Games Federation and the city of Montreal in its bid to host the 2006 Games. This fallout led to the creation of the controversial ‘Out Games.’

Intrigued? Let us tell you, how it all went down. Read on and savor the joy of proud and out sportspeople and be shocked by the bare-faced opportunism of Montreal. That’s right folks, not all Canadians are nice.

Tom Waddell – Bio

Waddell was born in 1937 in Paterson, New Jersey to a Catholic family. He knew he was gay in high school, but he tried to suppress it and threw himself into sports. He excelled in athletics as a means to compensate for being gay.

This obsession with sports eventually brought him to the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, where Waddell placed sixth among the 33 competitors. He broke five of his own personal records in the ten events.

Along with his Olympic achievements, he’s also known for founding the Gay Games.

History Of The Gay Games ROMEO Dr. Tom Waddell

Eureka Moment

Many years after his Olympic days, and after falling in-and-out of love and moving to California, Waddell joined a gay bowling team. The bowling team inspired him to create a gay sports event based on the Olympics. He traveled around the States campaigning for support to bring the ‘Gay Olympics’ into being.

History Of The Gay Games ROMEO


The first Gay Olympics was to take place in San Francisco in 1982 as a sports competition and arts festival, but the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) sued Waddell’s organization over its use of the word “Olympic.” So three weeks before the first ever Gay Olympics, Tom Waddell had to change the name, and it became The Gay Games.

History Of The Gay Games ROMEO 1982 San Francisco

The Inaugural Gay Games

The first Gay Games was held in San Francisco and included 17 different sports; 1,350 competing athletes attended it, from 12 countries. It was the beginning of something enormous; a colossal sport and arts event that promoted inclusion and freedom to express your sexuality as an out and proud sportsperson.

History Of The Gay Games

Canada and New York

The third Gay Games were the first to take place outside the USA. It was the first to see official world records broken (in swimming). At the height of the AIDS crisis, the Gay Games doubled in size again and continued to serve as an inspiration.

The fourth games, in New York, coincided with the Stonewall 25 celebration, participants included Olympians, celebrities, politicians, and 12,500 artists & athletes from 40 countries.

History Of The Gay Games

Gay Games Outside of North America

The Gay Games has been held every four years since 1982 and has traveled from North America to Europe, Australia and back again to the US. It was held in Amsterdam in 1998, and four ROMEO staff members were there. Our Comms Officer Darryl McDade had just moved to Holland from the US, and was one of the dancers in the opening ceremony, our Foundation coordinator Marc Van Zijp was a volunteer, our content manager Kerry West was there as a reporter, and finally Gui Bosselaers, CMO, was in the audience as a spectator.

History Of The Gay Games

Montreal, Chicago and Drama

The Gay Games ran into a little drama in the lead up to the Gay Games VII. Initially, the game was scheduled to be held in Montreal, Canada in 2006. The Canadians wanted to plan an event for 24,000 athletes, double the size of the 2002 Gay Games in Australia. The Gay Games Federation was cautious not to take risks, or get into debt, and talks between the committee and the city of Montreal broke down, more than once. Eventually, the Gay Games withdrew its offer to be held in Montreal and relocated the 2006 games to Chicago.

Canada did not give up so quickly and organized its own ‘Out Games’ for the first time in 2006. Both events happened very close together, and many athletes had to pick one over the other. Although both were relatively successful, a bad precedent had been set. The future would prove very unpredictable for the ‘Out Games’, which went on to see some good years and some bad years.

History Of The Gay Games

The Heart of Europe

The Gay Games on the other hand, has continued to do very well and has seen slow but steady growth. Its core values of inclusivity, visibility and promoting art and sport have stood the test of time. On certain occasions, the Gay Games has boasted about having more participants than the official Olympics, such as in 1992 and 1996. The Gay Games is now the world’s largest sporting and cultural event open to all. The 10th cycle of the Gay Games will see the torch return to the heart of Europe in Paris.

History Of The Gay Games

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