CONTINUING quarantine restrictions in Hong Kong and uncertainty over international travel has forced organisers to postpone the city’s hosting of the 11th Gay Games to 2023.
The event was scheduled to take place in November 2022 and offered the prospect of a boost to the local events industry which has been hit hard by the street protests of 2019 followed by the Covid pandemic.
Exact dates for the November 2023 event are due to be announced after Gay Games 11 Hong Kong (GGHK) organisers consult the Federation of Gay Games, the event’s international governing body.
The 11th edition of the games in 2022 was expected to bring HK$1 billion in local economic impact with 75,000-plus spectators and 12,000 competitors expected. Organisers say the postponement will allow more time for global vaccine take-up to increase and to arrange venues in the city.
Dennis Philipse, co-chair of GGHK, said the decision to postpone was critical to the success of the games and was due to uncertainty about Covid variants and “uneven access to vaccines” in many parts of the world including Asia.
Philipse dismissed the comments of two lawmakers who recently criticised official support for the event. Instead, Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam has welcomed the event while cabinet member Regina Ip said bringing the games to Hong Kong would lift the city’s image internationally.
Business leaders have also supported bringing the games to Hong Kong, which would be the first time the event is organised in Asia.
“We have enjoyed a surge in enquiries from potential corporate sponsors and private venue partners since June, when the games were first debated in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council,” said Philipse.
“The Hong Kong Games play a critical role to bolster our city’s modern, cosmopolitan image internationally. Chosen over 17 other cities, Hong Kong is also the first destination in Asia to host the 11th Games, providing a highly visible platform for Hong Kong to show a global audience how and why it truly is Asia’s World City.
“Given the ongoing uncertainty regarding the state of travel restrictions internationally and in Hong Kong, we felt that a postponement now will increase the likelihood that our city’s return to the world stage would be a triumphant one which would most closely mirror our initial projections,” he added.
Regina Ip, who is also a legislator and chairperson of the New People’s Party, said: “The importance of the Games to Hong Kong’s global image as a forward-looking, cosmopolitan city should not be underestimated.
“In addition, the 12,000 participants and 75,000 spectators that were expected in the original plans would bring in close to HK$1 billion to the local economy, providing a lifeline to the tourism and aviation sectors which have been so badly affected the last two years.
“I fully support postponing the Games to 2023, which will give the organisers more time and resources to focus on hosting a successful event, and encourage more multi-sports events to be hosted in our incredible city,” Ip said.
Allan Zeman, one of Hong Kong’s most prominent business leaders, said: “It is understandable that major sports events are delayed during the pandemic, but the worldwide audience still enjoyed the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. I believe the same would happen to the Games in 2023, which would allow a more engaging and a safe environment for everyone.”
Ming Wai Lau, chairman of the city’s Ocean Park attraction and member of GGHK’s Advisory Committee, said: “In light of the circumstances with the pandemic, postponing the Games is prudent and necessary. I look forward to seeing the Games take place in 2023 and, in the meantime, continue its engagement with the local community.”
The event also has the support of sports leaders in the city who helped lay the foundations for the Hong Kong team’s medal success in the Tokyo Olympics. Hong Kong won gold in the men’s foil individual fencing, three silvers with two in swimming and three across cycling, karate and table tennis.
“Deferring the Games until November 2023 will allow this vibrant celebration of sports for all, to be successfully held without the current Covid concerns,” said Dr Trisha Leahy, chief executive of the Hong Kong Sports Institute and member of GGHK’s advisory committee.
“I am confident the hard-working organising team will ensure that the spectacular programme of sports events will bring much joy and excitement to participants and audiences alike. I hope everyone continues to train hard in the meantime,” Leahy said.