Over 13,000 competitors are here in Sydney taking part in 31 sports as diverse as
badminton, netball, baskteball, bowling, bridge, chess, dancing, golf, judo, physique,
powerlifting, figure skating, martial arts and touch rugby.
With flags flying, Oxford Street, Sydney’s road to ruin, is heaving. You’re queuing
round corners for schooners. New venues have sprung up; old ones have spruced up.
According to Games spokesperson Matt Jones, the Bali bombs don’t seem to have had much of an affect on visitor
numbers, estimated to be around 30,000 in all.
“What we’re hearing from tourism bodies in Australia is that Bali isn’t having an impact
on inbound tourism to Australia,” he says. “It’s likely the tragic events in Bali will
actually be good for Australia, in that it will encourage domestic travel.”
Walking along Oxford Street is like tuning in to Radio International. So many foreign
tongues! There are competitors here from all over, including Gay Swim Amsterdam, Hot Helsinki, Team Israel, Team Iceland, Team Hong Kong and Team South Africa. Flying the
Jack, there's Out in Sport GB, Team Manchester, Team Ireland and Team Wales. They're also individuals
representing states like Iraq where homosexuality is punishable by death.
“We’ve got people of all sizes, shapes, colours, ages, sexualities and abilities who have
arrived in from every part of the planet,” says Matt. “It’s a wonderful, international
carnival of sport, culture, celebration and fun. “It is
like Mardi Gras – quadrupled,”
Despite drip-fed hype, domestic interest in the Games has been slow to build. Only
two sporting events (wrestling and aerobics) have so far sold out. Slow ticket sales
have led to reports of a cash flow crisis and serious reservations about the viability
of the Games.
However, Jones says sales are better than expected. “We kept our expectations for ticket
sales to sporting events very low, so we’re already exceeding expectations in a lot of events.”
But, of course, it’s not about the money. It’s about the being there. It’s about participation,
inclusion and personal best. And shattering misconceptions along the way. Sport’s not a
straights-only zone; not all poofs throw like girls.
One participant Dermot Dawson who was born in Ireland, but now lives in Sydney,
will compete in the Marathon. He'll be joined by Doug Woessner who's an American,
“I’ve lived in Ireland for around fourteen years,” he said. Woessner will be competing in everything
from wrestling to table tennis. “We just all sort of gathered together and decided to form a
Team Ireland, even though we’re from all over.”
Competing in the Games, says Jones, is a life-changing experience. “If you were a soccer
player out there in Alice Springs,” says Jones. “You’d think you were the only gay soccer
player in the world. But coming to the Games you realise there are thousands. It’s a very
Nowhere was this more obvious than in the speech at the Opening Ceremony by
Justice Michael Kirby of the Australian High Court. He'd been the target of a smear campaign by
right wing politicians, and he turned round Aussie opinion by publicly coming out.
“When there is so much fear and danger, anger and destruction, this event represents an
alternative vision,” said Kirby. “Struggling for the soul of humanity, this is the
compelling idea; acceptance, diversity, inclusiveness, participation, tolerance and joy.
Ours is a world of love. We are here because whatever our sexuality, we know that the
days of exclusion are numbered.”