When the World OutGames canceled their 10-day sports festival on the opening day it left thousands of athletes shocked, bewildered and angry.
How could something this big collapse on day one? With no warning?
Turns out there were plenty of warning signs and red flags leading up to the event. It’s still unclear why no one paid more attention to them.
SFGN interviewed several local organizers to find out if there were any misgivings prior to opening day. There were plenty.
“It seemed shady from beginning to end,” said Tim Martin, Chairman of the South Florida Amateur Athletic Association, the local LGBT softball league.
Martin told SFGN, OutGames approached him a year and a half ago about organizing a softball tournament on their behalf. Eventually negotiations between Martin and OutGames fell apart.
The two biggest obstacles for Martin were that the fees were too expensive, and they wanted the tournament held in Miami. Martin, who is familiar with Fort Lauderdale, wasn’t willing to go down there and start from scratch.
“The fees for this would have been more expensive than our World Series,” he said, saying OutGames wanted about $200 per person. Each team has between 13 and 18 players. A typical tournament charges per team, not player.
OutGames organizers were persistent though, even approaching Martin one last time just two months before the event, telling him they had secured two teams from California. Martin said the smallest number needed to host a tournament is eight. To put that in perspective their local annual tournament has 60 teams each year.
“They came out for one final push and even agreed to waive some fees,” Martin said. But that did nothing to persuade him.
If they had overcome the cost and location, they would have gotten to the next level of discussions where they would have run into a third problem. Martin explained there are other long standing gay softball tournaments that take place Memorial Day weekend in other parts of the country. An OutGames tournament would have potentially pulled teams away from them, causing a rift between himself and other leagues.
“They didn’t seem to care about pulling teams away from other cities even when we told them that bothered us greatly,” Martin said. “As a league, we feel like we dodged a big bullet.”
Martin wasn’t the only one SFGN interviewed who called World OutGames shady.
“I thought they were shady from the get go,” said Kirk Arthur, a former captain of the Nadadores, the LGBT swim team in Miami. “I refused to deal with them and passed the opportunity off to John [Grzeszczak].”
OutGames initially approached Arthur to organize the aquatics events, which includes swimming and water polo.
“We made the OutGames pay up front for all our venues and events,” Arthur said. “We had no trust in their ability to execute something as complex as this meet.”
Grzeszczak, who is captain of the Hammerheads in Fort Lauderdale, was the next person in charge of organizing the aquatics portion of the sporting festival.
And then everything fell apart.
“There were problems from day one when they couldn’t even get control of their website,” he remembers. “These guys thought everybody was going to roll over and give them everything.”
The last straw for Grzeszczak was one week after the early registrations had ended in September of 2016 and the aquatics venues needed to be paid. OutGames missed the payment. In response Grzeszczak quickly bowed out.
“At that time I vowed not to do anything with the meet,” Grzeszczak said. “Every meet has hiccups. These hiccups were so much worse.”
Once Grzeszczak quit, the Nadadores stepped in and took over the event.
“Unfortunately, OutGames were responsible for a number of important things we had to do without, including transportation, essential equipment, volunteers, and even medals,” said Evan Matthew Cobb, Secretary, IGLA International LGBTQ+ Aquatics.
Despite those issues most swimmers and organizers SFGN interviewed agreed the aquatics events went smoothly.
“I think the Nadadores did a great job,” Grzeszczak said. “They did good job with a bad situation.”
“The team had everything pretty well organized so even if OutGames didn't deliver, the event would go on,” he said.
And it did.
“Thanks to [the Nadadores] efforts, we had all the essentials - pools, officials, and some great social events - so we had a successful championship and 30th anniversary celebration,” Cobb said. “We welcomed over 600 athletes from more than 20 countries, and we’re also grateful for their patience, flexibility and understanding.”