In the wake of Russia’s recent ban on homosexual propaganda, the 2014 Gay Games, which returns to the U.S. next year, has released a statement saying it will offer LGBT athletes and their allies a safe and welcoming environment.
“Russia is basically saying you can’t be gay,” Rob Smitherman, director of operations and events and sports director of the games said. “That you can’t use a rainbow pen, you can't walk down the street and hold someone’s hand and if you do, you’ll be arrested and put in jail.”
The 2014 Gay Games, or Gay Games 9, will be hosted in Cleveland and Akron, Ohio. The last time the games were held in the states was eight years ago in Chicago.
The games, held every four years since 1982, is noted as the world’s largest sports and cultural festival open to all regardless of age, ability or sexual orientation.
Smitherman said they aren’t just for people who identify as members of the LGBT community. The games are also for people who feel like they cannot express themselves completely in athletic events.
“The U.S. is changing quickly in regards to gay rights, gay marriage and inclusion,” he said. “But there are some places where it’s still not accepted.”
Unlike some sporting events that emphasize winning, the Gay Games are more recreational. Although medals are awarded, the three themes of the games are participation, inclusion and personal best, so athletes are more encouraged to come out and show support than compete for prizes.
“We have a saying that goes, ‘You don’t have to be gay. You don’t have to be good. You just have to be 18,” Smitherman said.
Smitherman hopes that despite of the events happening in Russia the athletes planning to attend from the country can make the trip to Ohio.
“On our opening ceremony, people come in and when we announce Russia the cheers for them are going to be much larger,” he said.
According to a press release, the games, presented by the Cleveland Foundation, are expected to attract over 10,000 participants from over 65 countries.
Past host cities of the games include San Francisco, Vancouver, Sydney and Amsterdam.
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