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July 19, 2010

Gay People’s Chronicle  July 19, 2010

Synergy loses license for 2014 Gay Games

Leaders assured that the event will remain in Cleveland

Cleveland--The Cleveland Synergy Foundation lost the license to hold the 2014 Gay Games on July 6. Financial irregularities and reporting issues appear to be among the reasons.

Synergy is, or could soon be, in mediation with the Federation of Gay Games over the action, while neither Synergy nor the federation will confirm or deny that mediation has begun.

Cleveland officials are attempting to privately assure LGBT community leaders that the city is making every attempt to keep the Games.

Synergy’s loss of the license means that currently no entity has rights to produce the 2014 Gay Games.

Losing the license led the city to withhold payment to Synergy of more than $38,000 to cover organizers’ travel to this year’s Games in Cologne, Germany at the end of the month. They are going to promote the Cleveland event and participate in the ceremonial transfer of the Gay Games flag from Cologne to Cleveland.

“On July 6, 2010, the Federation of Gay Games, Inc. (FGG) notified Synergy that FGG was exercising its right to terminate the license agreement with Synergy for the 2014 Gay Games in Cleveland and agreeing to pursue voluntary mediation within fourteen days to attempt to resolve the outstanding issues,” wrote Cleveland Economic Development Director Tracey Nichols in a July 7 letter to Synergy founders Doug Anderson, Jeff Axberg, and Brian Tavolier.

The letter was to notify Synergy that they were not going to get the $38,000.

“As you know, the city’s contract with the Sports Commission provides that the city may finance costs incurred by Synergy for the purpose of assisting with bringing the 2014 Gay Games to Cleveland,” Nichols wrote.

That money was allocated from the $700,000 pledged in support of the event by the city.

However, Nichols continued, “In light of the notice given to Synergy by FGG, the city hereby notifies Synergy that it is suspending any further payments to Synergy until the outstanding issues between the FGG and Synergy are resolved and Synergy continues to hold the license for the 2014 Gay Games.”

Nichols cited in the letter a “project report,” which is a financial document due from Synergy on June 1, which was not filed.

The private message to LGBT leaders is that it is likely that the Sports Commission will be taking a larger role in the Games if they stay in Cleveland.

LGBT leadership is not being told that Synergy lost the license, or given details about what any of the partners’ options are.

Two individuals who attended a July 14 meeting called by Cleveland Ward 3 Councilor Joe Cimperman told a reporter under condition of anonymity that it never came up.

The meeting, which was held at City Hall, was supposed to be off the record.

Among those in attendance at that meeting were Cleveland Sports Commission President David Gilbert, and Mayor Jackson’s Chief of Government Affairs Valarie McCall. Both were copied on Nichols’ letter to Synergy.

McCall has been out of town and unavailable for comment. Gilbert has not returned numerous calls.

Cimperman, who sponsored the ordinance setting aside the $700,000 and traveled to Cologne last year to accept Cleveland’s award of the Games, has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

The two attendees who spoke about the meeting knew nothing of the situation with Synergy, and both said that the purpose of the meeting seemed to be to re-assure them that the Gay Games would be in Cleveland in 2014, regardless of what they might hear.

Both believe personally that it doesn’t matter who runs the Games as long as they are in Cleveland, and neither were immediately concerned when they learned of the facts.

LGBT leaders who heard the re-assurance message included the Cleveland LGBT Center director Jan Cline and development director Mary Zaller, Lakewood Councilor Nickie Antonio, Eric Lutzo of Plexus, and Stonewall Democrats Ted Wammes and John Farina.

Wammes is also on the Synergy Foundation Council, an advisory group. He did not return calls for comment.

The Federation of Gay Games continues to be evasive when questioned about the dispute, too.

Asked when the mediator is expected to rule, and other questions about finances, spokesperson Kelly Stevens emailed, “The Federation of Gay Games can not comment on these questions and statements.”

“We can say: ‘We look forward to coming to Cleveland-Akron for Gay Games IX in 2014.’ ”

Stevens said in a later call that a delegation from Cleveland is going to Cologne, and promised a list will be forthcoming.

Synergy is not answering direct questions about this matter or about what will happen to their Frivolity fundraiser event scheduled for August 20. The event was promoted heavily at Cleveland Pride.

They are, however, issuing statements that seem to deny that anything of concern is occurring.

On July 16, apparently in response to a July 16 earlier Gay People’s Chronicle report, Axberg, who is Synergy’s spokesperson, released a statement saying, “We continue to collaborate with the federation to ensure the best outcome for the 2014 Gay Games, as envisioned by our organization.”

“We respect the federation for not only awarding us the opportunity to host the Games, but for continuing to guide us throughout this process with integrity and transparency,” Axberg wrote.

Axberg, however, did not respond to numerous email and phone attempts to obtain clarity on that statement or explain what parts of earlier reports are, as he alleges, “erroneous.”

On July 19, Axberg issued another similar statement, responding only to email requests for clarity but answering few questions posed.

“As the organization licensed to produce the 2014 Gay Games,” Axberg’s second statement begins, “the Cleveland Synergy Foundation remains committed to bringing this important, civic, cultural, and economic event to the Cleveland + Akron region.”

“We look forward to quickly resolving any questions the federation may have,” Axberg continued.

Axberg then infers that the federation broke the rules of the licensing agreement, and wants a meeting of the two organizations’ boards.

“We have requested that the federation join us in following this process of resolution in order to maintain the integrity of our organization, the FGG, and the future of the Gay Games movement,” Axberg wrote.

Axberg concluded with “It is imperative that Gay Games remain an event created by the LGBT community, for the LGBT community, with the partnership and support of the host city.”

That statement is an oblique reference to blog comments questioning whether or not the Gay Games can only be produced by an LGBT organization.

Pressed for more comment on July 19, Axberg produced the section of the license agreement that calls for meetings of the boards before mediation.

However, Axberg would not explain why he thinks it’s relevant.

Having lost the license, Synergy, not the federation, would have had to ask for mediation.

Axberg declines to clarify this contradiction or acknowledge that Synergy lost the license.




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