World OutGames Miami cancels most events at last minute

This story has been updated.

Pop Goes The News — Hundreds of athletes, including dozens from Canada, arrived in Miami this week for the World OutGames IV — only to find out that virtually all events have been scrapped.

Late Friday, Miami Beach Police Department and the Florida State Attorney opened a joint fraud investigation, alleging “potential misappropriation of funds.”

The World OutGames IV were scheduled to take place May 26 to June 4 in the Miami area with LGBT athletes from 59 countries competing in 34 sports and taking part in a number of cultural events.

On Friday, organizers pulled the plug on the opening and closing ceremonies as well as all but three sporting events.

“It is with deep regret that due to financial burdens, World OutGames must cancel its sports programming and Opening and Closing Ceremony with the exception of soccer, aquatics and country western dance,” read a message from the board of directors.

The opening ceremony was scheduled to include entertainment by singers Kristine W and David Hernandez.

“The Human Rights Conference and cultural programs will continue as planned. We thank everyone who has supported the effort and apologize to those who will be impacted by this difficult decision.”

Speakers at the Human Rights Conference include Canadian Olympic swimmer Mark Tewksbury and Montreal-born Omar Sharif Jr. (Tewksbury was co-president of the failed World OutGames in Montreal.)

Local governments, which spent hundreds of thousands of dollars promoting Miami’s OutGames around the world, seemingly turned a blind eye to the event’s troubled past.

OutGames were founded in Montreal in 2006 after a rift with the Federation of Gay Games. The inaugural event lost $5.3 million, according to the Quebec government, and eventually filed for bankruptcy protection.

Copenhagen and Antwerp hosted the OutGames in 2009 and 2013 respectively.

In March, Miami’s OutGames organizers acknowledged fewer than 2,000 athletes had registered — well below projections — and said some sporting events would be cancelled.

The event’s Twitter page had only a little more than 1,300 followers.

One Canadian athlete who competed in Antwerp told Pop Goes The News he decided not to participate in OutGames in Miami because of concerns for his safety (the first weekend overlaps with the notoriously violent Memorial Day weekend in Miami Beach) and because he opposes the Donald Trump administration.

On Thursday, Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales issued a memo stating that OutGames organizers have been struggling for the past year to meet financial obligations.

“In our effort to do everything possible to support World OutGames, the City has reduced deposits and extended deadlines, multiple times,” Morales wrote. “In fact, with events set to begin tomorrow, the City has yet to receive the required $5,000 special event deposit and several other key permitting components have not been met.”

According to NBC News in Miami, Damian Pilié flew in with 20 teammates from Canada.

“I could not even imagine doing this to participants and at such a last minute,” he said. “I mean you have to pay your flight, your hotel and the registration. It was the most expensive of OutGames history.”

Miami Herald columnist Steve Rothaus posted videos of disgruntled athletes, including one who said he has soured on Miami as a travel destination.

The Greater Miami Convention & Visitor Bureau (GMCVB) dispatched staff to the OutGames host hotel to offer frustrated participants advice on things to do and discounts on attractions.