Published: 22:51, June 23, 2021 | Updated: 09:48, June 24, 2021
Gay Games could be a turning point in unifying Hong Kong

The announcement that Hong Kong was to be the first Asian city to host the Gay Games was made as long ago as October 2017. The bidding process was unprecedentedly intense as 17 cities expressed keen interest in hosting the games. In the end, 11 cities submitted a formal bid; nine eventually submitted letters of intent and were longlisted; and in the end, Hong Kong was shortlisted against two other cities. It was a highly competitive process and Hong Kong was not pitched against second-tier cities — Austin, San Francisco, Washington, DC, Dallas, and Guadalajara, Mexico, to name a few. 

Since then, however, the buildup to the games has largely been quiet and unnoticed. Of course, the government and civil society of Hong Kong has had a busy couple of years, to say the least. However, many people in the city may not even have been aware that we had been successful in our bid to host the games next year. 

“There is no such thing as bad publicity,” so the old maxim goes. If this is the case, then the organizers of the 2022 Gay Games in Hong Kong must be pleased with the brouhaha that came out of the Legislative Council early this month. Apart from increasing the general awareness of the existence of the games — and their coming to Hong Kong — we have also seen much written on the potential benefits of the games to our city. Organizers estimate that they will bring 12,000 participants and over 75,000 spectators. These should generate 300,000 hotel room bookings. It is estimated that this could generate more than HK$1 billion ($129 million) in revenue for the beleaguered hospitality and retail sector. 

The intangible benefit is enormous. Organizers estimate that around 3,000 volunteers will participate. Imagine each of these visitors and volunteers as potential “brand ambassadors” for Hong Kong. Think of the millions of photos on social media which will be generated. Of course, there will be the pictures of Victoria Harbour and the neon lights of Mong Kok as well as other aspects of the city’s intangible cultural heritage such as Hong Kong milk tea or any number of local dai pai dong. There will also be a clear and welcome representation of Hong Kong as the more open and inclusive “Asia’s World City” — which has been hidden from view in recent years. When one factor in the potential longer-term returns for our city being “put on display” to the world once more in a positive light, this could make the HK$1 billion direct boost seem paltry. 

It is therefore no surprise that the chief executive and government organs such as Brand Hong Kong, Invest Hong Kong and the Tourism Board are on board as supporting organizations. 

Not everything, however, is about the economy. The motto of the games is “Unity in diversity”. The bigger question, then, is: To what extent can the games deliver and turn this motto into its stated aspiration of seeking to “create unity and positive attitudes that will last a lifetime”? Can the games be a means to start bringing people together — old and young, gay and straight, maybe even “yellow and blue”? This can only occur if the city as a whole stands affirmatively behind the games. The offering, organization and opportunities to the local population will only be a part of its potential success and impact. 

The implication from the recent LegCo events was that the general population would have some problem with the games. This view does a disservice to both the games and the Hong Kong public. The games are meant for all people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity. The games are about pluralism, understanding and integration. This feature of the games aside, according to a University of Hong Kong survey in 2014, 78 percent of Hong Kong people agreed with the statement that “it does not matter to me whether my friends are gay/lesbian or straight”; and only 12 percent strongly felt that a person’s sexual orientation would affect whether they would accept them. It is this rising societal acceptance of LGBTQ people that lays the foundation for the success of the games. 

Last but not least, it is a simple fact that we are committed to hosting the Gay Games. There is no doubt that we can, as a city, make a roaring success of it. Indeed, the first objective of the Major Sports Events Committee (set up under the Sports Commission) is to “instil a sustainable sporting culture, foster a sense of pride and social cohesion, and to bring tangible economic benefits to our community”. This is exactly what a successful games could deliver. To do this, we need an “all of society” backing, the first step in which requires proactively removing prejudice.

It is unclear whether Hong Kong is ready to start the process of healing our fractured society. However, the evidence is clear that the population is ready to support the Gay Games. With their support, and that of the government, NGOs and business, there is every possibility that the games can present to the world the very best that Hong Kong has to offer. Looking back on 2022 in the future, perhaps we might even see these games as a unifying first step toward bringing our diverse and fractured society back to unity.   

The author is professor of social science and public policy at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. 

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.