No longer able to count on the support of the BC government, Vancouver's Outgames organizers are turning to the private sector to ensure the North American portion of the international gay sports and culture festival will continue as planned in 2011.
When planning the games in 2007 and 2008, Outgames chair John Boychuk says representatives from "ministries associated with sport" initially made a verbal promise to contribute $400,000 to the event. Eventually that verbal commitment was reduced to $150,000-$200,000.
"A year later they told us that things were a little bit tight but on track," Boychuk says. "After 18 months they said, 'We can't continue to commit to any amount.'"
Boychuk says the uncertainty surrounding government funding pushed Outgames organizers to move from planning a volunteer-run event to working with a corporate partner.
International Conference Services (ICS) will now provide secretarial, sponsorship, accommodation, registration and accounting services for the event, according to Boychuk.
The partnership with ICS will also give Vancouver's Outgames the backing it needs to secure facilities for the event.
"In order to secure a hotel contract, you have to have money to be able to back up what you're asking for," Boychuk explains. "So if you're asking for 250 hotel rooms for five nights, you have to put up a bond or credit card. We don't have the cash to do such a thing, so we have to have someone with that line of credit."
Boychuk is still hopeful that the 2011 Outgames will receive provincial funding.
"Grants for the provincial level are currently being worked on," he says. "But in order to qualify for grant A and B you have to have A in place. The provincial government won't give money until civic government has kicked in, so we will be paying [ICS] for professional grant-writing services to ensure the best people are working on the grants to ensure money is available."
"We're taking a very prudent approach," says Dan Quon, president of Team Vancouver. The non-profit society has been sending local athletes to Gay Games and Outgames around the world since hosting the Gay Games in Vancouver in 1990 and is now part of the organizing team for the 2011 Outgames here.
"We know what happened with Montreal. We certainly don't want to repeat that," says Quon, referring to the $5.3 million deficit run by organizers of Montreal's Outgames in 2006.
"We've heard that from our members too, and our sports teams. What happened in Montreal is quite unfortunate and we're doing what we can to make sure we put on really good Games that people will remember," Quon says.
"What we'd like to have is a legacy fund left over for the sporting community to help support future culture events," he adds.
A spokesperson for BC's Ministry of Housing and Social Development, which is responsible for issuing gaming grants, claims global economic circumstances have forced the provincial government to re-evaluate the community grants.
At the top of the government's list of priorities are programs that support low-income and disabled British Columbians and programs that provide food, shelter and support to at-risk individuals. At number six on the list is "a limited number of arts and culture activities," the spokesperson says.
The Outgames board, which has been planning this event for the last two years, could still cancel the 2011 games in Vancouver.
"The last crossroads we faced was in September when we moved from a volunteer-based model to a corporate-based model to ensure the continued success of the Outgames," says Boychuk. "The next crossroad will come in May which will be the last opportunity to cancel based on sponsorship involvement."
But Boychuk is adamant that the games will go on as planned.
"The community has a great will to ensure these games will go forward," he says. "We feel that would be a loss for our community to not continue with Outgames in Vancouver for 2011."
Boychuk anticipates the event will draw 4,000-6,000 participants and an additional 50,000-150,000 spectators.
"If we're actually successful and bring 6,000 people, that will have a huge economic impact on this province and region," he says. "We may be asking for a little bit of money, but the long-term economic impacts are huge."