With 499 days to the 2022 Gay Games in Hong Kong – the first to be held in Asia – organisers stressed the need for unyielding solidarity from the city’s government and service providers. Despite its “Unity in Diversity” mantra pushed since winning the bid some four years ago , the 11th Games (November 11-19) have in recent weeks been met with criticism from certain factions of the Legislative Council. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor had to play mediator and condemn “unnecessarily divisive” comments from the likes of lawmaker Junius Ho Kwan-yiu, who labelled the event “disgraceful” . The Games welcome competitors of any gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity and religion. Meanwhile, organisers continue to bemoan difficulties in booking public venues a year in advance , with existing rules requiring them to book through national sports associations. The Games are classified as a charitable organisation, meaning bookings only stretch three to six months in advance. Of the 56 locations blueprinted, organisers have secured 21 private venues, with the remaining 35 Leisure and Culture Services Department (LCSD) public venues still unconfirmed. Organisers estimate 12,000 participants across 36 sports events. “Those 21 venues include for example the [Hong Kong] Rugby Union which has King’s Park available; the sailing will take place in Hebe Haven and Victoria Harbour; there will be running locations in Sai Kung, Tai Po and The Peak,” said event founder and co-chair Dennis Philipse at a press conference marking 500 days to go. Co-chair Lisa Lam Mun-wai said the opening ceremony will be at Hong Kong Stadium in So Kon Po and the closing ceremony will be held at its arts and culture-promoting Festival Village. Organisers have included new sports such as dragon boat racing and trail running to “highlight features of Hong Kong”. “Pending our ability to secure venues in the summer, we would like to open registration some time in the next few months,” Lam said, adding that more than 1,100 people have preregistered so far, with around 60 per cent coming from North America and Europe and 27 per cent from Hong Kong and Asia. “Then we’ll have a one-year countdown in November, recruit our 3,000 on-site volunteers in January and prepare to welcome the Gay Games in November, 2022.” “While we do have the support of many national sports associations, we came to a little bit of a tricky situation when asking them to book the venues in their name for the Gay Games, which is not an event hosted by them. There are technical and logistical issues which we would like to work on with the LCSD to see if there’s any flexibility.” Organisers estimate the Games will inject a staggering HK$1 billion into the Hong Kong economy (the Paris Games generated a reported €107 million (HK$983 million). Covid-19 pandemic willing, they estimate some 75,000 spectators and 3,000 volunteers visiting from 100 countries over the nine days. “For many, particularly those from Asia, this is going to be their first time in a global LGBTQ+-friendly sporting event in Hong Kong. Asia has two-thirds of the world’s population, so if we say 5 or 6 per cent of them are LGBTQ+ individuals, that roughly translates to 293 million people – in Hong Kong alone you’re talking about 481,000,” Lam said. “This is going to be the largest multi-sports arts and culture event ever in Hong Kong. Based on previous Games’ economic impact studies, we estimate it’s HK$1 billion generated in the local economy.” As for the much-scrutinised comments from lawmakers, the co-founders avoided engaging in debates and instead hoped the event would help move the needle for future discussions. “We understand there are a lot of different voices within the council,” Lai said. “When I first heard [the comments] of course I was a bit unhappy, but after a while it was just further proof for why we need to bring the Gay Games to Hong Kong. Many people have also since reached out in support and offering to help, which showed us that what we’re doing is right.” “But now it’s about holding an event in the best way possible and help communicate it to – [these people]. To reach a dialogue and talk about its presence in society.” Suen Yiu-tung, assistant professor of the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s (CUHK) gender studies programme and founding director of its sexualities research programme, hoped the discussion would return to being an issue of sports and inclusion. “With regards to the negative noise, I can refer to my decade’s experience researching Hong Kong polls. The acceptance of sexual minorities is actually increasing in Hong Kong. Our studies have shown the voices against these communities is also decreasing,” Suen said. “Another thing we need to address is that the discussion is often about the associations and legislation. I would say the Gay Games is more about sport and participation. Policy advancements and developments thereafter is another discussion. “One question people ask is ‘ Why is there a need for the Gay Games? ’ Why is there not a ‘Straight Games’, for example? My answer is that in a sports setting there has traditionally been a lot of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia – often linked to a culture of toxic masculinity that can be found in sports. [This] makes a lot of gender and sexual minorities feel very uncomfortable or, worse, receive blatant forms of discrimination or negative treatment, or forms of micro aggression-based slurs or so-called jokes. “That’s not to say there hasn’t been change – there have been more openly LGBTQ+ athletes coming out of the closet and have had a pretty warm reception from fans and industries. But still, that kind of [phobia] in sports is something that needs to be tackled because it has real consequences on many levels.” View this post on Instagram A post shared by Gay Games 11 Hong Kong 2022 (@gaygameshk2022) Suen said the Games would allow communities to “be themselves” in a safe environment and give the public an opportunity to “be in touch with gender and sexual minorities who have largely been invisibilised”. “I would like to urge both the Hong Kong government and other relevant organisations to enhance the running of the Gay Games, to make it more smooth and even better prepared, because this is not only about the Gay Games, but the whole city. “In addition to enabling the booking of the venues, relevant government units and service providers should think … how to be LGBTQ+ friendly when we’re going to have such a significant number of participants from different parts of the world,” he said. The Gay Games is a quadrennial event first held in San Francisco in 1982 and last held in Paris in 2018. The Hong Kong Games are funded by the community, participants, commercial partners and sponsors. It is organised under the Federation of Gay Games. Aside from dragon boat racing and trail running, Hong Kong will debut dodgeball and esports.