Monday 19 February 2018

The gay games: coming to London, Paris or Limerick!

The city is hoping its world-class sports facilities will clinch an ambitious bid.

Cillian Flynn pictured recently at Thomond Park
Cillian Flynn pictured recently at Thomond Park
Rainbow flags flutter near King John's Castle in Limerick
Cillian Flynn and volunteer Billie getting behind the Gay Games 2018 bid

Graham Clifford

Just before midnight on Monday, two friends from Tipperary will discover if a throwaway remark made 18 months ago has successfully transformed into arguably the most sensational coup in the history of Irish sport.

In Cleveland, Ohio, the Federation of Gay Games will decide if Limerick is to host the event in 2018.

Up against London and Paris, Ireland's third largest city is in with a fighting chance of bringing the games Shannon-side – and with it an estimated tourism revenue injection of up to €80m.

It was over coffee in Cillian Flynn's house in April of last year that the light-bulb moment occurred.

"Myself and John James Hickey were throwing around a few ideas on how to help boost the profile of the LGBT community in Limerick specifically in connection with sport. We're not sure who came up with the idea first but we thought we'd do a bit of research into it," said Cillian as he prepared to travel to Ohio this week.

Involved in Limerick's Gay Pride festival, the two friends discovered the massive impact the Games could have on their adopted city.

Expected to attract in excess of 10,000 participants and upwards of 12,000 spectators in August of 2018, the bid appealed to groups such as Fáilte Ireland, the Shannon Regional Conference & Sports Bureau and the Irish Hotels Federation.

Cillian and John submitted an initial bid and in February they were contacted to say Limerick had been shortlisted in a group of seven cities to host the games. Soon afterwards Rio di Janeiro and Sao Paolo were removed from the shortlist and in June it was reduced to three when Orlando and Amsterdam were eliminated.

"We couldn't believe it," says Cillian. "But look, we have world-class facilities such as the University of Limerick sporting campus and Thomond Park and because of our comparable size to the other candidates can offer something more personal."

Indeed, when delegates from the International Federation visited the city in July they were met off their flights by representatives of the city's bidding team.

"I think they were a bit stunned. The door of the aircraft opened and there we were on the ramp to greet them because Shannon Airport allowed us through. Can you imagine that happening in London or Paris?"

In just 12 months, Cillian (31), who worked as a retail manager and John (28) a civil servant, found their world's turned upside down as they and other volunteers worked tirelessly to fine-tune the bid and raise funds for the campaign.

As well as administration costs they had to raise $20,000 (€14,800) in bid-fees – the majority donated by local business bodies.

With a smaller gay and lesbian community than cities such as Dublin and Cork, the success of Limerick's Gay Pride festival made selling the idea of hosting the Gay Games to the general population easier.

"The reaction of the man and woman on the streets of the city has been amazing. Limerick is a sports-mad town so people really got behind the bid. To see the rainbow flags flying over the bridge to King John's Castle was an amazing sight," Cillian told the Irish Independent.

"Of course you'd get a few negative comments, but once we explained what the Games entailed people recognised the potential benefits."

John James, the bid co-ordinator, said: "Since this bid process started we have changed perceptions. The issue of homophobia in Irish sport and in places such as Russia are now in the newspapers. In 2008 Ireland held the gay rugby world cup and now we want the world games."

The bid has been backed by the IRFU and the Taoiseach Enda Kenny wrote a letter to the Governing Federation saying: "Ireland is waiting, do come and join us."

Karen Brosnihan, of the Shannon Region Conference & Sports Bureau, believes the financial benefits to the area could be massive.

"People forget it would bring in roughly the same amount of people, between competitors and supporters, as travelled to London for the Olympics."

A six-member Irish delegation left for Cleveland on Thursday and over the weekend will launch a final bid before Monday night's decision.

Coffee will be replaced with champagne if Limerick is the name that comes out of the envelope and John James Hickey believes the Treaty city could nick it.

"The whole thing is a fairytale. Can we do it and bring the games to Limerick? Stranger things have happened."

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