The 11th Gay Games held in Hong Kong has concluded. It started on November 4. With this the organizers have heaved a sigh of relief.
This competition was once known as 'Gay Olympics'. The competition has been controversial since it began in San Francisco in the 1980s. This competition was dreamed up by an American Olympic decathlete. He wanted to share the spirit of sports with his community. This competition was organized for the first time in Hong Kong. There this competition had to face new challenges.
A city whose political freedom and cosmopolitan character have been affected in recent years by the pandemic and China's strict rule.
The world's economic hub, with its major ports and mountains, won the bid in 2017 to host the 2023 competition. This competition has been organized for the first time in Asia. Before Hong Kong, Paris, Amsterdam and Sydney have hosted this competition.
In 2019, after large-scale pro-democracy protests took place in this city, China entered its semi-autonomous region with new powers. He enacted a comprehensive law to crack down on political opposition or dissent.
In past years, Hong Kong's government, which is backed by China, has used national security laws to deal with any dissent. He has prosecuted about 200 people and sent them to jail. During this time, Hong Kong residents also witnessed how LGBTQ freedom of expression has been cracked down on in mainland China.
The country's biggest Pride Parade in Shanghai is suspended from 2021. Gay students studying in universities have made allegations of discrimination. Earlier this year, Beijing's decades-long LGBT center said it would close due to reasons beyond its control.
Nini, a 50-year-old Chinese citizen who came to Hong Kong to take part in the Gay Games, told the BBC that he felt Hong Kong's environment was still more diverse and inclusive despite recent changes. He said that in China they get less opportunities to celebrate their community. So he decided to participate in the Gay Games.
However, Hong Kong's reputation kept others away. Foreign tourists were not openly welcomed in this city till September last year. Because of this, originally the organization of these games had to be postponed by one year to 2022. Apart from this, the city of Guadalajara in Mexico was chosen to co-host these games.
Other participants took part in the games held in Mexico. Taiwan's team was also among them. Taiwan team officials had cited the risks of Hong Kong's national security law. He said that he did not want his athletes to be at risk of arrest.
Some people said that organizing the Gay Games was a demonstration in favor of legalizing gay marriage in the city. The LGBT community still does not have the right to marry in Hong Kong. This year a historic decision in the city courts has underlined this.
Regina Ip is one of the few Hong Kong MPs to publicly support the event. He told the BBC that supporting the Games is not the same as promoting the legalization of gay marriage in Hong Kong. He also criticized the security arguments of his opponents. He said the Games were held with the full approval of Hong Kong authorities.
He told the BBC, If the event were a national security threat, it would be impossible to hold it in Hong Kong. We are the first city in Asia to host the Gay Games. It is something we are proud of. Many others "Cities can't do that.
But he argues that despite the tacit approval of the government, there was very little public publicity of this event. He said the city's tourism board and government departments dealing with the event - such as the Equality Commission - did not do enough to promote it.
Compared to the Games in Mexico, where participants took to the streets waving rainbow flags in a colorful parade this week, events in Hong Kong have been more underground, where street protests have virtually ceased since 2020.
The opening ceremony of the Gay Games was held indoors at the Queen Elizabeth Stadium in Wan Chai. This was the only public arena used in these games.
An Australian dragon boat race participant said she enjoyed the games, but was surprised and disappointed by the lack of branding around them. They had seen one or two buses and trams bearing the logo of the sporting event, but this was minimal compared to other events such as food festivals being promoted in the city.
Another competitor from Australia, Mark Tietjen, said he was skeptical about participating because he feared the event would not take place and would be too small. At the same time, the organizers of the games are having trouble emphasizing the non-political nature of the event.
Lisa Lam, co-chair of the Hong Kong Games, told the BBC ahead of the Games: "We promote diversity and inclusion through sport, arts and cultural activities, all within the legal and national security laws. There is no objection."
Cami Kwok, a local gay rights activist, told the BBC that she found it disappointing that organizers of the local gay rights campaign rarely mentioned the struggle of the LGBT community to demand marriage and housing rights this year. But any event that celebrates community is welcome, he said, especially when we have less opportunities for it.