“The Gay Games have brought me friends, a large family, and medals!”
At 35, Cécile Lambert is going to participate in her third Gay Games. Involved since 2009 in the Frontrunners in Paris*, she is now co-captain of Team France for the Gay and Lesbian Sports Federation (FSGL), and referee for the Paris Triathlon 2018. For us, she comes back with enthusiasm about her participation in LGBT sports events where she has competed and talks about her expectations for Paris 2018.
Interview by Maël Coutand
How were your first Gay Games in Cologne in 2010?
It was a great experience, thanks to the reasonable size of Cologne. The whole town was in the colors of the Gay Games; there were posters everywhere, gay flags on all important buildings, etc. All athletes were walking with their badge in the city, which allowed us to recognize each other directly in the street, when traveling between events and athletes villages. I noticed a great atmosphere between us, everyone said hello, it was friendly, all in a city that seemed so friendly!
The village of runners was even more friendly. In the sports village, which was really great, there was every night something to eat, to drink in cafe style, with music and entertainment; it was great. These places have allowed us to meet many athletes from other countries, and stay in contact for some, almost ten years later. We meet at each Gay Games, and I know I’ll see them in Paris 2018.
It was a truly festive week. During the day, we were going to see the different competitions, not necessarily our own. At night, I remember memorable parties, including the Girls Party, which took place in an old building converted into a night club on four or five floors, with music and a lively crowd.
Have you seen differences in atmospheres between the different editions of the Gay Games that you went to?
Cologne and Cleveland were really different; Cleveland was much more spread out, and there were long travel times, which resulted in meeting fewer athletes. However, as the city was not used to having many thousands of tourists in such a short time, the entire city was offered many volunteers. The city people were warm and delighted that we were there. All this brought together a team of volunteers that went well beyond the LGBT sports networks.
I also remember Cleveland’s Opening Ceremony; it was really magical, worthy of the Olympics, even with a video message from Barack Obama, who welcomed us and wished us good luck! The Opening Ceremony of Cologne was also exciting, with an athlete’s parade that displayed all nationalities and flags.
Why did you register for the Gay Games as an athlete the first time in 2009?
When I joined the Front Runners club in 2009, everyone was preparing for the Outgames in Copenhagen. I had not been there, but all echoes regarding this event were very positive. All participants that I knew told me that it was a great experience. In addition to this, I began to be very involved in all LGBT sporting events, so it was natural for me to register for the Gay Games in Cologne the following year. We were at least twenty people from the club to register. In the end, I loved this experience so much that it was just obvious to register for the following Gay Games.
Is there a different atmosphere compared to other competitions?
Clearly, yes, right from the start. From the Opening Ceremony, we felt the weight of the entire history of the Gay Games, and more broadly, the history of discrimination and LGBT struggles. The Gay Games traces the difficulties in mounting such an event in San Francisco in 1982. The emotion is still very strong because there is always speech given in tribute to the homosexuals who have died from AIDS. We feel like we are a big family.
For me, it is important to remember it all. This explains the reasons why we are at the Gay Games: to meet each other, because we are still suffering from discrimination in other sports competitions, because we still have to struggle and fight for our rights. We attend the Gay Games to continue what our predecessors started; their reasons are still valid. I do not conceive any Gay Games without mentioning the importance of its history.
As an athlete, do you prepare differently for this kind of competition?
You prepare perhaps one year in advance, except maybe if it’s for a special performance. For the Gay Games, I prepare myself usually three months ahead, as for a standard competition.
The overall level is not very high, at least in athletics. Anyone can register for events even if the sport in question is not one’s specialty, and this is also the purpose of the event – to register in these competitions for fun; the atmosphere is nice, everyone can try sports, everyone is encouraged. The atmosphere is very friendly.
Why do you recommend participating in the Gay Games?
The Gay Games are really a special experience compared to non-LGBT sporting competitions because it is really one big family. When you meet other athletes, you talk with them much more easily than in other events. You can meet people that you’re going to be meeting in other competitions of the same type. This is a special atmosphere, regardless of the host city.
With hindsight, what have the Gay Games brought you?
First of all, a lot of meetings with people who practice sport like me, who are LGBT like me, but who come from other countries. It is a sense of belonging to the LGBT family, with an activist dimension, which is important in my life. It gave me: friends, a large family, and medals!
Compared to your previous experiences in Gay Games, what could you predict for Paris in 2018?
I was quite skeptical initially on the choice of Paris to host the Gay Games. I thought we were already an LGBT-friendly city, so that was the opposite of host cities like Cleveland, where the Gay Games has really helped to change attitudes about LGBT issues. I was also skeptical because the city is a bit large, so this can reduce meetings between athletes.
But after discussions and reflections, I think it is really a good choice. Paris is a city that will allow the Gay Games to attract a lot more athletes and volunteers from all countries. The choice of the city is symbolically important for some people.
Moreover, the sports village will be in the Marais, which will allow participants to stay close to this area and especially to animate and entertain the sport community.
This will also be a special edition because of the buildings and monuments of Paris, which will bring a certain prestige. The Opening Ceremony will, for example, be held in the Grand Palais! This should be quite elegant.
What do you think of about the choice of Hong Kong for 2022?
As for Cleveland, where attitudes did not seem open to LGBT issues, Hong Kong will surely face difficulties integrating the Gay Games into the urban network, but the effect will surely be very beneficial in terms of reducing prejudice against gays. Geographically, it is a very good thing that Asia hosts this event for the first time. The United States welcomed it regularly, but I think it really is necessary that the different continents be involved.
Can you summarize Paris in 2018 in three words?
Prestigious – Inclusive – Festive
* Founded in 1992 and member of the Gay and Lesbian Sports Federation (FSGL), the Frontrunners of Paris are a running club, open to gays, lesbians, bi-es, trans and their friends.