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Gay Games in Hong Kong, Guadalajara: What you need to know

November 5, 2023

The 11th Gay Games officially got underway in Hong Kong on Saturday, kicking off a week of inclusive sporting competition across two continents. Half of the events are taking place in the Mexican city of Guadalajara.

Participants pose for photos at a news conference ahead of the Gay Games in Hong Kong
Participants posed for photos at a news conference ahead of the Gay Games in Hong KongImage: Tyrone Siu/REUTERS

What are the Gay Games?

The Gay Games is an international multisport event organized every four years by the Federation of Gay Games (FGG).

In its statement of concept and purpose, the FGG says it aims "to foster and augment the self-respect of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and all sexually-fluid or gender-variant individuals (LGBT+) throughout the world and to promote respect and understanding from others, primarily by organizing and administering the international quadrennial sport and cultural event known as the 'Gay Games.'"

The organizers claim the Gay Games is "the world's largest inclusive sports, art and culture event" which stands for "unity in diversity."

Gay Games get underway in Mexico, Hong Kong

The brainchild of former US Olympian Tom Waddell and other homosexual athletes, the inaugural Gay Games took place in San Francisco in 1982. Since then, the United States have hosted the Games on four more occasions (San Francisco in 1986, New York in 1994, Chicago in 2006 and Cleveland/Akron in 2014).

They first went abroad to Vancouver in 1990, and left North America for the first time in 1998 when they were hosted by Amsterdam. Other European cities to have hosted the Gay Games are Cologne (2010) and Paris (2018), while Sydney hosted the 2002 Games. The 2026 Games will take place in Valencia, Spain.

When and where are the Gay Games taking place?

The current 11th edition of the Gay Games was originally scheduled for November 2022 in Hong Kong, but it was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They are now taking place from November 3-11 with Guadalajara, the second-biggest city in Mexico, added as a co-host.

It is the first time that the Gay Games will be held in Asia and Latin America, and indeed across two continents.

A group of swimming participants at the Gay Games
Paris hosted the Gay Games in 2018Image: GwendolineLeGoff/Panoramic/IMAGO

What sports are part of the Gay Games?

Sports events at the Gay Games are divided into seven general categories: ball games, racquet sports, sea sports, running, mat sports, swimming and table sports.

Within these categories are subcategories including specific sports such as fencing and martial arts, tennis, table tennis, badminton and squash.

Sixteen sports will take place in Hong Kong, while 21 will take place in Guadalajara. Many will take place in both locations.

What do the athletes say?

"This is a huge chance for us," said Mexican transgender footballer Noemi Arzate, speaking to DW from her home in Mexico City. "Firstly, to test ourselves in international competition, and secondly to discover other cultures, meet new people and make new friends."

Arzate said she never imagined such an international competition taking place since "so many things were blocked" for her in the past.

"Imagine what it means to have such a huge event as the Gay Games to make us visible," she said. "It's a great thing to make trans women more visible in sport and take part in this competition."

Why has host city Hong Kong been criticized?

The influence of China on Hong Kong has led to restrictions on the rights of LGBTQ+ people in the financial enclave on the South China Sea in recent years.

Same-sex relationships are legal, and a recent judgement from the Supreme Court did guarantee certain rights for same-sex couples.

However, same-sex marriage is not permitted with equal rights and there are no specific anti-discrimination laws for the protection of the LGBTQ+ community in Hong Kong, where there have been massive protests against the government in recent years.

Thousands of people take part in the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender (LGBT) parade in Hong Kong on 26 November , 2016.
Organizers hope the Gay Games will have a positive impact across AsiaImage: Chan Long Hei/ZUMAPRESS/picture alliance

The awarding of the Games to Hong Kong has therefore drawn criticism, but organizers say they hope the Games and their message of inclusivity can help improve the situation both in Hong Kong and across Asia generally.

"We believe that hosting the Games for the very first time here will be a momentous experience and a cornerstone for our Asian community as well as for the whole world. GGHK can bring all of us together in the name of Sport, Fairness, Respect and Friendship," reads the official website.

The organizers estimate that 221 million LGBTQ+ people live in Asia, "a region where there is an ongoing struggle to overcome homophobia and [gain] acceptance."

Who will be taking part?

The Gay Games aren't limited to homosexual athletes; straight athletes can also take part.

"Everyone aged 18+ is welcome to participate regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity or even training level," the website states under the motto: "Games for all!"

With no restrictions in place and no qualifications required, over 2,000 participants from 45 different countries are expected in each location.

This article was originally written in German.

Correction, November 6, 2023: An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of Tom Waddell. DW apologizes for the error.

David Vorholt
David Vorholt Sports editor, reporter and writer