Thursday, July 30, 2009 at 9:27 PM
Imagine thousands of athletes from around the world attracting tens of thousands of spectators --- and their pocketbooks --- to Northeast Ohio. That's the vision inspiring area officials to back a bid to bring a unique sporting event here. ideastream®'s David C. Barnett has more on the campaign to land the international Gay Games.
In many ways, you could say that Clevelander Michael Readinger grew-up as a typical American boy.
MICHAEL READINGER: Ever since I was in junior high school, I started playing intramural volleyball, football baseball, ran track. I've been an amateur athlete my entire life.
In one way though, Readinger didn't fit the image of a typical American boy --- he is gay. But, he found sports to be a great equalizer --- if mainstream society didn't accept his choice of sexual preference, he could express his athletic talents without fear of stigma. Three years ago, an international sporting competition called the "Gay Games" came to Chicago, and Readinger decided to pay a visit to the Windy City and put his sports skills to the test.
MICHAEL READINGER: I played more softball and more volleyball in that seven-day period than I had ever played in my life. It was incredible competition --- grueling --- but very rewarding.
The Gay Games were created in 1982 by former Olympic decathalete Tom Waddell as an Olympics-styled competition, with traditional sports, such as soccer and track, along a number of specialty events, like an aquatic dance routine known as the Pink Flamingo. Now, cities around the world compete to host this quadrennial event, and this year Boston, Washington DC, and Cleveland were chosen as finalists to host in 2014. Last fall, the Cleveland Synergy Foundation was formed to organize the local bid. Synergy board member Michael Murphy figures that this is one instance where the bleak economy may be working in Northeast Ohio's favor.
MICHAEL MURPHY: When you compare the cost of living, and logistics and hotel accommodations in Cleveland versus Boston and D.C., Cleveland really emerges as the affordable choice.
The Synergy Foundation has gotten backing from many government officials in this effort --- all the way from Governor Ted Strickland… to the mayors of Cleveland and Akron. One likely reason for that is the event's financial track record. The Chicago Gay Games attracted a reported 100,000 people to the city in 2006, generating between 50 and 80 million dollars-worth of economic impact.
DENNIS SNEYERS: We're really looking forward to visiting Cleveland.
Dennis Sneyers is co-chair of the Gay Games site selection committee which is in Northeast Ohio this weekend to see what the region has to offer.
DENNIS SNEYERS: We look for a host city to provide us a list of 30 sporting events that they'll host and then there are four cultural components that they're also asked to host --- a choral event, a band event, an international rainbow memorial run, and a multi-media arts program.
The committee will be given tours of Cleveland Browns stadium, Akron's Canal Park, and several other area sporting venues. Dennis Sneyers is diplomatic when asked how Cleveland ranks among its competition.
DENNIS SNEYERS: All three cities, I think, can make a dynamite host. So, as we visit the venues and meet the people in each of the cities, we're hoping to learn a lot more about their bid and their ability to support and host the Games.
Gay Games officials note that the emphasis is not so much on being a great athlete, as being a person who gives their best effort. The theme of inclusion is very strong, as well, with straight people invited to participate. For Clevelander Michael Readinger, competing against other athletes from around the world in Chicago was great fun. But, what he'll always remember was being part of an international community where he was being judged for his "personal best" and not his sexual orientation.
MICHAEL READINGER: Walking into Soldier's Field as part of the Ohio delegation of athletes with the stands full of people screaming and cheering, it was really a remarkable experience.
The theme of the Cleveland bid is "My Games Rock". And the Rock Hall is hosting a welcoming event for the site selection committee, tonight. The Federation of Gay Games is due to announce its decision among the three competing cities in September, and the Cleveland contingent is hoping that IT will be singing a song of victory.
MUSIC: "We Are the Champions" by Queen.