Gay Games offer chance to ‘empower’ and ‘connect’, Hong Kong organisers say, as momentum builds for November 2022 event

Laura Westbrook
·4-min read

When Lisa Mun-Wai Lam was given the opportunity to be part of the team organising the Gay Games 2022 in her home city, she jumped at it. Growing up in Hong Kong in the 1980s, the lawyer always felt different, never quite sure where she fit in.

“I remember feeling lonely,” the 52-year-old says. “There were no words for it at that time. I just had this very strange feeling that I didn’t fit anywhere.”

After studying in Canada, where she says she found her place, Lam returned to Hong Kong, and while the city has become more inclusive of the LGBT community, she knows friends who have been disowned by their parents for being lesbian.

Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.

Volunteer Lisa Lam is part of the organising team for Gay Games Hong Kong 2022. Photo: Jonathan Wong
Volunteer Lisa Lam is part of the organising team for Gay Games Hong Kong 2022. Photo: Jonathan Wong

“When this opportunity came up, I thought if only one person can go to this event and feel empowered, and safe, that would be so powerful,” she says.

Lam is one of about 100 volunteers organising the Gay Games, which will be held in Hong Kong in two years’ time. Registration for the event, originally scheduled for this month, has been postponed to spring 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Hong Kong edition marks the first time the event will be held in Asia, with the nine-day spectacle of sports, culture and arts expected to attract 12,000 participants and 75,000 visitors to the city, and inject HK$1 billion (US$130 million) into the economy.

A celebration of sport and culture designed to promote the LGBT community, diversity and tolerance, the Gay Games takes place every four years. The Hong Kong edition will host 36 sport events, including dragon boat racing, trail running and “vertical runs” up the ICC building.

The French team at the opening ceremony of the Gay Games in Paris in 2018. Photo: AFP
The French team at the opening ceremony of the Gay Games in Paris in 2018. Photo: AFP

Open to everyone, not just members of the LGBT community, people can sign up as individuals or teams to participate.

Dennis Philipse, who spearheaded Hong Kong’s successful bid to host the Games, is hopeful a more normal version of life will have resumed – with extra measures in place – by November 2022.

The ongoing global coronavirus pandemic that has seen international travel ground to a halt and professional sports played before largely empty stadiums has to date claimed 1.18 million lives, with more than 45 million infected. In Hong Kong, there had been 5,323 cases of Covid-19, with 105 fatalities as of Friday.

The Tokyo Olympics Games, postponed to next July, are among the numerous large-scale events temporarily sidelined due to the pandemic. Philipse and his team have been in touch with the Olympic organisers to see what lessons can be learned from their experience.

From tyranny to tolerance: LGBTs in Hong Kong – 150 years of highs and lows

“I think [November 2022] is the right timing, because it’s a great way to connect and people might be ready for this event by then,” Philipse says.

With registration to start just 1 ½ years out from the event, organisers are conducting a global survey of potential participants from Sunday to gauge the level of interest.

Much has changed in Hong Kong since the winning bid for the Games was secured in 2017.

The city was rocked by months of anti-government demonstrations last year, which led to Beijing’s imposition of a sweeping national security law on the city. Numerous Western countries have since imposed travel advisories, raising questions as to whether the event can attract its typical numbers.

Gay Games Hong Kong 2022 has set up a contingency planning committee and drawn up a plan to cover specific risks, like the pandemic and social unrest.

Participants compete during the synchronised swimming contest at the 2018 Gay Games in Paris. Photo: AFP
Participants compete during the synchronised swimming contest at the 2018 Gay Games in Paris. Photo: AFP

Lam, the volunteer, says the weekend survey will provide guidance for them to measure people’s thinking, but she remains optimistic the city will host the event on schedule.

Philipse says while people knew Hong Kong had won the bid, some may not be that familiar with the event, so they will be working to raise awareness over the next two years. As part of their “champions” programme, people will engage with communities around the world to promote and spread the news about the Games.

“For people from China, Cambodia, the Philippines, it was always very difficult to go to the event, because it was too far away and too expensive. We really want to focus on the people who live in Asia,” says Philipse, who estimates there are about 128 million LGBT people in Asia.

As for Lam, she is hopeful the event will be able to connect people in the community.

“I really believe sports has this unifying power. I think it would be an opportunity for the city to see everyone coming together in a positive, inclusive manner.”

This article Gay Games offer chance to ‘empower’ and ‘connect’, Hong Kong organisers say, as momentum builds for November 2022 event first appeared on South China Morning Post

For the latest news from the South China Morning Post download our mobile app. Copyright 2020.