The 10th Gay Games, an international sports event that bills itself as the world’s largest and “most inclusive” — anyone can participate, even straight people — will come to a close on Sunday in Paris.
The event has grown tremendously since its kickoff in 1982 in San Francisco, where it was originally advertised as the “Gay Olympics” by its founder, Dr. Thomas F. Waddell, an Olympic decathlete. (The name was changed after the United States Olympic Committee sued, and a Supreme Court decision upheld a ban on its use.) The first tournament included 1,350 athletes in 17 sports.
This year’s Games, which began Aug. 4, had more than 10,000 participants from around the world. They ranged in ability from beginners to professionals and competed in 36 sports and events, which included traditional ones, like basketball and rowing, as well as less common competitions, such as pétanque, same-sex dancesport and queer urban dance.
“The atmosphere is really electric,” said Joanie Evans, a British nonprofit worker and a co-president of the Federation of Gay Games, which organizes the tournament.
“It’s just the joy of playing. Win or lose, you still get the same joy out of the game.”
The Games are intended to promote freedom and rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Organizers say the Games are crucial because of the discrimination gay athletes face in sports, on both the amateur and professional levels. And some of the participants hail from countries with strict anti-gay laws, like Kenya, Saudi Arabia and Russia.
Kevin Mwachiro and Kelvin Washiko, gay activists from Kenya, received scholarships to attend the event from the Federation of Gay Games and the International Front Runners, an L.G.B.T. running club.
Mwachiro, 45, competed in the 200-meter run, placing fifth. He said the number of older participants had inspired him to keep training and promoting a healthy lifestyle.
“People are able to do it at any age, regardless about the type of body shape. People are just passionate about sport,” he said. “I was in my element.”
Washiko, 32, had never competed in a race before. He ran in 10-kilometer and 5-kilometer races.
“I did finish,” he said with a laugh. “Not all Kenyans can run fast. That’s been a myth here!”
The competitions take place in stadiums and facilities around Paris and Île-de-France, the broader Parisian region, with support from the government and major corporations like Renault and General Electric.
They also come amid a rise in reports of homophobic acts in France, according to the group SOS Homophobie, which has operated an anonymous hotline to collect such accounts since 1998.
The group received 1,650 reports of homophobic acts in 2017, a 5 percent rise from the previous year. Of those, 139 were physical attacks, a 15 percent jump.
That may simply mean more people are calling the hotline. But it’s still a stark reminder of the persistence of homophobia in France, said the group’s president, Joël Deumier.
“L.G.B.T. people don’t hide anymore,” he said. “They are more and more visible, and that creates tensions in this society.”
This week, a plaque commemorating the execution of a gay couple in 1750 was vandalized with black paint and signs targeting gay parents. Paris’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo, called the vandalism shocking.
“This act only reinforces our determination to fight against discrimination,” she wrote on Twitter.
France legalized gay marriage in 2013 amid large protests, but French law still blocks gay couples from pursuing medically assisted reproduction. President Emmanuel Macron has promised to change the law, a move likely to draw strong opposition from conservative groups.
The 2022 Gay Games will be held in Hong Kong. The Federation of Gay Games chose the location over 16 others, including Washington and Guadalajara, Mexico.
Previous tournaments have been held in New York, Chicago and Cleveland; Vancouver, Canada; Sydney, Australia; Amsterdam; and Cologne, Germany.
Evans said the organization was trying to recruit more women to take part in the Hong Kong Games. In Paris, about 70 percent of the participants were male.
“It makes such a big difference in many people’s lives,” she said.
Emma Bubola contributed reporting from Paris.