By Edoardo Mesiti
The 9th annual Gay Games were held in Cleveland Ohio, in the United States from 9-16 August. The games, which were first held in 1982, follow a similar format to the Olympics, featuring multiple sports and held every four years. The big difference between the two, however, is that anyone can join regardless of age, gender, skill levels, and most obviously sexual orientation. These games won’t have the same controversies which hung over the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia. An “anti-gay” law that was passed in Russia in 2013 meant that the safety of LGBT athletes attending the Sochi games was not guaranteed.
Wrestler and silver medallist Fernando Serrano, 44, competed at the games for the first time, representing Australia. He spoke to Sydney TAFE Media about his experience.
How long have you been wrestling for, and how did you get into it?
I have done it for four years. I joined the club when I moved to Australia, for my PhD studies. I wanted to do something different to what I was used to. I never tried any sports before. I had quite bad experiences in PE during school and did not exercise properly until later in life. Moving to Australia was my chance to do different things. I also wanted to get to know new people. The Club offered me all those options: friends, a new sport I have never tried; something different to do than my studies. Wrestling is a sport in which challenge you. There is not team but just what you can do in the situation you are in. I like it, since it really moves me from my own comfort zone.
What do the Gay Games mean to you?
The chance to compete in an international arena, get to know other teams and to train with other clubs. It is also the chance to see what people do in other sports and how they combine the sense of community with the particular challenges of each sport. It is an event with a long tradition, and being part of it is also being part of the history of the ones who fought to make it possible.
Do you think the games are as important now, as they were when they commenced in 1982?
I could not answer that properly since I haven´t been before. I could say that now there is more space for making communities, and to fight for gay rights so the context in which the games were created has a chance. Still, it is important to have them since there is still discrimination in sports. Children and young men and women who do not fit in hegemonic models of gender and sexuality may be still excluded from sports. Gay Games are a safe space to compete, a goal to reach and a reminder that sports are also spaces in which people can be who they want to be.
What was it like seeing a team like Russia enter the stadium at the opening ceremony?
It was a very touching experience. Everybody stood up when they entered. They were excited to be here. It was special seeing them coming in here in the USA and being supported by all people, especially when you remember that just a few decades ago something like that would not be possible. Sport can be a space for challenging politics and breaking borders.
Have the people of Cleveland been welcoming?
Lots. It has been an amazing feeling. [They are] so welcoming. Walking on the streets, people ask where we come from, asking about the games and the sports, [and] wishing us good luck. When we got our medals we walked [around] with them and people stopped to say congratulations. That was amazing. Since it is a small city, the presence of the games can be seen everywhere. It is making a real impact here. I wonder if something like that would happen in a big city.
Featured image: Wrestler and silver medallist at the Gay Games Fernando Serrano. Photo courtesy Fernando Serrano.