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David v. Goliath: the gay games, the Olympics, and the ownership of language

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journal contribution
posted on 2006-01-01, 00:00 authored by C Symons, Ian WarrenIan Warren
The Gay Games is firmly established on the contemporary global sports calendar, but is seldom canvassed in mainstream sports media, or considered a model for sports administrators. This is regrettable, as the Games’ ethos offers many clues into the relationships between individual and communal empowerment for homosexual and heterosexual participants alike, while providing a site of resistance against entrenched norms of elitism, nationalism, victory and record-breaking indicative of the modern Olympic movement. Credit for this inclusive ethos rests with the vision of inaugural Gay Games organiser Dr. Tom Waddell. Drawing on Games archives, this paper outlines Waddell’s vision, then discusses the impact of a protracted legal dispute instigated by the United States Olympic Committee in 1982 over the use of the term ‘Olympics’ in association with Gay Games I and II. Four United States Federal court rulings are examined, with particular reference to the contrasting hierarchy of private intellectual property and public civil rights considered under United States law of the time. Domestic and international legacies of the dispute are also briefly examined, focusing on the inherent tensions between the state-sanctioned protection of Olympic terminology, the ideals of free speech, the ownership of common sporting terms, and the potential discriminatory effects of selective trademark enforcement. The paper concludes with a brief discussion of how Waddell’s vision superseded each of these legal technicalities to ensure the Games continues to provide a viable model for inclusive and engaged participation for all people.



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Warwick School of Law, University of Warwick


Coventry, England






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C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal; C Journal article

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2006, University of Warwick, School of Law

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