Mayoral candidates coy on gay sports funding
By Magally Zelaya
Vancouver’s gay community is disappointed that it may not get city funds for its international sporting event at a time when the city is spending millions on the Olympic games.
At a debate held on November 5, neither mayoral candidate would commit funding to the North America Outgames, which will bring lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) athletes to Vancouver in 2011.
The lack of commitment comes as a let down to Vancouver’s gay community, which prides itself on its major economic and cultural significance to the city.
“We all know that the city has fallen all over themselves to financially assist with bringing the Olympics to Vancouver and with other international efforts,” said Jennifer Breakspear, the executive director of The Centre, Vancouver’s only LGBT community resource centre.
“Here is an international effort of significant magnitude,” she said talking about the Outgames, but “there was no willingness to financially support it.”
Non Partisan Association (NPA) candidate Peter Ladner said, “There’s a lot of pressure on the city to support a lot of these events.
Ladner, who currently sits on city council, pointed to the $300,000 the city has committed to the World Police and Fire Games that will be hosted by Vancouver in 2009.
He suggested that the Outgames host committee make an application to the municipal Sports Strategy fund and to funds set aside for Vancouver’s 125th celebration in 2011.
Vision Vancouver mayoral candidate Gregor Robertson said that he could not commit funding before knowing the “budgetary side,” but said that he would like the city to be involved.
“The city should have an important coordinating role growing out of the 2010 [Olympic] games where the city helps to take all of that volunteer energy and great support and transplant it over,” said Robertson.
Related: Q&A The Outgames
The comments by both mayoral candidates fell short of what Breakspear had hoped to hear.
“I would have liked to have had both candidates say: ‘Let’s meet and let’s talk about what the city can do,” she said.
Breakspear also said the city should make clear the criteria it uses in determining which events it supports.
A $2.9 million budget has been set for the Outgames, which will also feature a human rights conference.
According to John Boychuk, a chair of the host committee for the games, said that 80 per cent of the budget would be covered by ticketing and by the registration fees of the more than 5,000 athletes expected.
He added that any commitment requested from the city would be small – in the $25,000 range.
“I’m not saying throwing out hundreds of thousands of dollars, but I do believe that the city should be helping out,” said Boychuk.
The city could also help by offering discounted rental rates for facilities, he added. Getting support from the city would help their request for $300,000 from the province.
Not everyone agrees with using public funds for games of any kind.
“How do taxpayers benefit from bringing different groups to participate in games?” said Maureen Bader the B.C. director of the Canadian Federation of Taxpayers.
“If these are so important why can’t [they] find private sector individuals to fund that voluntarily instead of forcing individuals to fund these things through the tax system?”
Others argue that it would be in the city’s best interest to invest in the games.
“In these uncertain economic times, a very small investment from the city could give a very high rate of return in tourism and in helping small business,” said Boychuk.
Mike Fox, sports tourism manager for Tourism Vancouver, said it was too early to predict revenue but said he was optimistic.
“The gay and lesbian community traditionally have some spare cash to put towards these events, so that’s what we’re hoping for,” he said.
The Outgames are an important event for the gay community.
Barry Spillman, who won a gold medal in track and field at the 2006 World Outgames in Montreal, said he hopes the city and the province come through for the Vancouver Outgames as they did in Quebec.
“I would hope that Vancouver is not treated differently,” he said.
When Spillman was awarded his medal two years ago, he pulled the silver and bronze winners up to the podium with him.
“It wasn’t me competing against them, it was all of us up there sharing that moment.”
Spillman hopes to see that same sense of camaraderie in Vancouver in 2011.
“It’s going to certainly pull the gay community together. We need re-energizing and refocusing to build the community and I think it’s something that will allow us to build strong partnerships across the metro Vancouver area,” he said.
(Marathon photo courtesy of David!)