THE BLOG

The Politics of Gay Sport

08/08/2013 17:11 BST | Updated 07/10/2013 10:12 BST

The world of gay sport is complex and fascinating.

At school and when growing up, 'sport' is often an emotionally fraught arena for gay men and lesbians.

Sports teams and locker rooms can often seem to be intimidating or unwelcome places, and gay men and lesbians often decide early on that sport isn't really for them.

Since the founding of the the Gay Games movement in the early 1980s and the establishment of international organizations such as Frontrunners, there has been growing momentum around the world to encourage gay men and lesbians to rediscover and reclaim the benefits and enjoyment of participation in sport.

The benefits of increased participation are easy to appreciate - regular exercise and enhanced social opportunities delivers better health outcomes (including mental health which is particularly important for gay men who, for a variety of complex reasons, seem to have lower mental health outcomes than the rest of the population).

In every sport imaginable there are now LGBT sports teams, clubs, and organizations around the world - encouraging participation, running training sessions, and taking part in competitions.

Multi-sport events for LGBT sports clubs are particularly popular. The first major one was the first Gay Games held in San Francisco in 1982. A chance for LGBT sportspeople from around the world to travel somewhere, participate in the sport they love, and socialize.

From small beginnings, events such as the Gay Games (which take place every four years) have become pretty major. Having grown to around 10,000 participants, the in-bound tourism benefits are significant and cities engage in a competitive bid process to be selected to host the event. In 2014 the Gay Games will be held in Cleveland; for 2018 the cities of Limerick, London, and Paris are bidding to be selected as the host city.

The success of the Gay Games has led to a proliferation of similar events. LGBT sports organizations around the world now have the confidence and levels of participation to hold multi-sport or sport-specific tournaments on a regular basis. If you play football you may have been to Dublin for a major championship; if you play rugby you could be traveling to Sydney for the Bingham Cup; if you're a swimmer you could be heading to Seattle for the annual IGLA championship.

This week I'm in Antwerp for the World Outgames.

The World Outgames is a major multi-sport event organized by GLISA (Gay & Lesbian International Sport Association).

I don't really understand the history, but around 2006 it seems there was some sort of schism within the Federation of Gay Games (FGG) and GLISA and its World Outgames emerged as an alternative event on the calendar of international LGBT sports events.

In recent years there were discussions to try and bring the FGG and GLISA 'back together', to consolidate their activities so that there would only be one quadrennial LGBT multi-sports event that would unite the world's LGBT sportspeople.

Those discussions were ultimately unsuccessful and plans are already in place for the 2017 World Outgames which will be held in Miami Beach.

One of the concerns that you often hear from LGBT sportspeople is that there are now 'too many' events being held. That when there just used to be the Gay Games, everyone would be focused on the same competition, with four years between events to save the money required and to look forward to seeing friends from around the world.

It is perhaps a little ironic. LGBT sports teams, clubs, and organizations have proliferated so much and have achieved such high levels of participation that we are now spoiled for choice.

In some ways it would seems a backward step to suggest that we should reduce activity levels and remove opportunities for LGBT sportspeople to come together, play sport, and socialize.

This is my first visit to Antwerp and I'm excited to be discovering a new city while also competing in my sport as part of a major event such as the World Outgames.

My water polo team, London Orca, will be competing against teams from Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Paris, Melbourne, Sydney, Toronto, and of course our hosts Antwerp. Teams that are our fiercest foes (in the water) and our best friends (out of the water).

The world of gay sport has never been stronger.