"It's going to be a daunting task over the next few months to pull this off, but we're positive that we can do the city and country proud."
John Hickey is not blind to the challenges ahead of him. He is the coordinator behind a bid to host the 2018 Gay Games, the tenth such games since they began back in 1982 in San Francisco. While it may seem to be some time away, Hickey and his team have already thrown their city's name into the hat to be host 2018, competing alongside London, Paris, Amsterdam and Orlando. Undoubtedly, such competition makes Limerick the clear underdog.
Limerick is the third largest city in the Republic of Ireland (fourth largest of the entire island) with a population of about 100,000. Despite its relatively small size, Limerick has played its part for years in Irish and European sport, being the home of the Munster Rugby team, with soccer pitches regulated by FIFA and UEFA as well as its title as European City of Culture for 2011. The Irish government have named it Irish City of Sport for 2014-2016, the first time a city has been given such a title.
Regardless of Limerick's strong sporting history, however, the city will need to prove over the coming months that it can pack some power behind its punch. Recently, a delegation traveled from Ireland to Sofia, Bulgaria to meet the Federation of Gay Games, along with delegations from the other bidding cities. They must become shortlisted, cutting the bid from five cities to three, before a delegation from the Gay Games will travel to assess the host venues. It would only be then that a vote will choose its fate as host for the tenth games.
When placed against such world-renowned cities, it can be forgiven to assume that Limerick might be more awkward to travel to than the likes of London or Paris, but the opposite is true for both Americans and Europeans alike. "We have at least two major international airports that are a short traveling distance from Limerick," Hickey explains, "so there are benefits to being a small, island nation." Shannon Airport is located twenty kilometers (just over twelve miles) outside of the city, which has connections to the U.S. and continental Europe, while Dublin and its own airport "is only up the road," as Hickey warmly describes it.
Between participants to supporters from home and abroad, Limerick is looking to extend the traditional 'céad míle fáilte' -- Irish for 'a 120,000 welcomes' -- to between fifteen and twenty thousand people for the 2018 Games. The games, which would run for 10 days, are estimated to raise up to 60 million euro for the Limerick and Shannon region.
"Looking at the list," John acknowledges, "the other candidates are major, internationally recognized capital cities. Limerick isn't a capital city -- we are the underdogs but we are well able to hold our own... [with] the support, locally and nationally of the LGBT and sporting communities behind this bid." The media in Ireland have already spread the news of Limerick's intentions across the country, and the Shannon region's Sporting & Conference Bureau and other local authorities are backing the bid.
The campaign to bring the Gay Games to Limerick is the first such Irish attempt, although Ireland is no stranger to participation in LGBT sporting events. Dublin played host to the Bingham Rugby Cup - an international LGBT rugby tournament - in 2008, while the Dublin Devils soccer team won the IGLFA European Championships in 2011.
The Gay Games is about much more than just a sporting event, and Hickey confidently insists that Limerick is primed and ready to welcome both athletes and supporters alike in 2018. Unlike the Olympic Games, the Gay Games welcomes participants to compete against each other regardless of skill level, age or physical challenge. Until such a time as the 2018 host city is announced, one can look forward to the next Gay Games taking place in Cleveland, Ohio in 2014.