Antwerp Readies for World Outgames
In Flemish myth the name is said to mean "throw the hand," a reference to when the hero Brabo killed the giant Druon Antigoon at a river crossing. In an act of victory, Brabo cut off Druon Antigoon's hand and threw it into the Scheldt River, giving the modern-day city of Antwerpen ("Antwerp," in English) one of the more dramatic etymologies.
And yet, true to the legend, Belgium's northern city is poised to throw its hands up yet again, only this time to cheer on the athletes of the third World Outgames July 31 - August 11. An estimated 250,000 are poised to descend on the city that bills itself the "LGBT Headquarters of Europe."
Beyond the Competition
Coinciding with the raucous Antwerp Pride Week, the Games are symbolic of a city enthusiastically embracing the LGBTQ population. As if to prove how tight that embrace is, the city is also hosting international LGBT events such as NaviGAYtion, the EuroGames, and the IGLTA Convention. The Outgames consists of three pillars: a human rights conference, a cultural festival, and the sports competition itself.
In a statement to athletes and tourists alike, Games Chairman Bart Abeel said, "On behalf of the Organizing Committee, it is my pleasure and honor to welcome you to the World Outgames, and in particular the LGBT Human Rights Conference, ’From Safe Harbors to Equality.’ The conference will be a first-class meeting for a distinguished international faculty of experts in all related disciplines to address and discuss the most recent problems and issues regarding the specific LGBT-community."
The Outgames counts 36 sports, some any fan of the Olympics would expect - soccer, fencing, swimming - and a few they wouldn’t - yoga, petanque, and Country-Western dancing. The last iteration of the Outgames, held in Copenhagen in 2009, saw competitors from 98 countries compete for the gold. Teams are still registering, but officials expect at least 5,000 athletes from 80 countries to attend.
Aware that Antwerp often plays second fiddle to capital Brussels in terms of tourist dollars, officials are quick to highlight their city’s pluses. From its prominence as an opulent port-of-call during the Age of Exploration 400 years ago to the very modern role of being the planet’s largest diamond marketplace, with a yearly turnover of $54 billion, guests will not be lacking in diversions.
To put Antwerp’s best face forward, the Opening Ceremonies will take place on the biggest plaza in city, the Gedempte Zuiderdokken. Once a series of open-air docks on the Scheldt, the square can hold up to 40,000 and is the site of the city’s Fancy Fair and Cirque de Soleil expositions. No less than eight official parties will take place over the course of the Games.
Civic and Fiscal Responsibility
For all the attractions, Antwerp has more than just a large-scale sports event to pull off, it also has full scorecard’s worth of officials at the Gay and Lesbian International Sports Association, who sponsor the games, to impress.
The Copenhagen Games began just as the Great Recession struck, and that, combined with the painful financial difficulties Montreal experienced during the first Games, led to open talk that the Outgames would not survive beyond Denmark, whose tight fiscal control was nevertheless widely praised.
Mindful of potential monetary minefields, Antwerp, coincidently the European Capital of Sport for 2013, is relying on existing infrastructure (the city hosted the 1920 Summer Olympics), partnerships with corporate entities such as Brussels Airlines and the Radisson Hotel Antwerp, local and national Belgian governmental bodies, and an army of volunteers to keep costs down.
Goodbye Antwerp, Hello Miami
After Antwerp, the games head to Miami Beach, and Mayor Matti Herrera Bower will be present to close the 2013 festivities. Tamara Hernandez, co-chair of the Human LGBT Rights Conference, said, "Antwerp will be very proud to hand over to Miami Beach and the legacy of the Conference on LGBT Human Rights."
"Miami Beach is already well established as a LGBTQI destination hot spot," Mayor Bower previously told EDGE.
"With our annual events such as Aqua Girl, White Party, Winter Party, Sizzle, Miami Beach Gay & Lesbian Film Festival and Miami Beach Gay Pride (of which this year I am honored to be the Grand Marshall), we are in the perfect position to expand on a very global arena and to reach possible attendees that may have a more difficult time getting to other areas."
Thinking about heading to Antwerp for the World Outgames? Visit www.woga2013.org for details and keep an eye out for EDGE’s event coverage later this summer.