When California-based basketball coach Jason Jaramillo learned he had come to Miami to play in an international sports competition that was no longer happening, he was gobsmacked.
“It was a whirlwind of emotions,” he told the Miami Herald on Saturday. “It was complete frustration and anger because a lot of us were looking forward to this upcoming week, to competing and meeting the community involved. To be around like-minded LGBT and straight athletes.”
Jaramillo and hundreds other athletes arrived to a mostly canceled and wildly disorganized World OutGames — an event that was suspected to be in trouble a few months ago by Miami Beach officials. Athletes have taken it upon themselves to organize their own games and are attending the scheduled social events that are still on to make the best of a trip to Miami. The Beach has helped arrange some competitions at public facilities.
Meanwhile, police have opened an investigation into the OutGames organizers because of possible misappropriation of funds.
“I think it’s a scam. We’ve been duped. That’s my conclusion,” said Rowen D’Souza, a tennis player who traveled from Melbourne, Australia, to compete — one of 160 Australians to make the long journey.
Athletes are all wondering whether they will be refunded their registration fees, which varied by competition. Basketball players, for example, had to pay $270 per person. Jaramillo and six others from Los Angeles registered to play.
Ivan Cano, CEO of the OutGames, has not commented on the fiasco. Keith Hart, the OutGames’ chief operating officer, did not return phone calls from the Herald.
Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales told reporters on Saturday that the city is already working on an audit of the organizers’ finances. He said it was too early to tell if the outside investigation will lead to any arrests.
“It may well be nothing, but we wanted to make sure the public knows we’re looking at this,” Morales said. “We just want to figure out where all those public dollars went and maybe learn a lesson.”
Financial documents given to Morales and his staff back in March signaled a troubled financial situation. City Hall donated $200,000, extended permitting deadlines, waived fees and communicated with organizers weekly. Still, city staff had grave concerns that the event would not meet its budget.
Even the total budget was unclear late in the process, according to financial statements provided to the city. When the OutGames first persuaded the Beach to commit to a sponsorship, organizers estimated a budget of between $5.35 million and $11.1 million. When the city got an updated budget, that range went down to about $2.5 million to $3 million.
By late March, financial records show the OutGames had $31,499 on hand with anticipated expenses of about $2 million. As the opening weekend approached, organizers grew panicked. An elected official who spoke with the Herald on the condition of anonymity said Cano sent a text message late Thursday asking for $250,000 — a quarter-million-dollar request two days before the start of the games.
Athletes make the best of it
D’Souza used his experience as a tournament organizer in Australia and help from the Gay and Lesbian Tennis Alliance and the Gay and Lesbian International Sport Association (GLISA) to quickly arrange a competition at 11 a.m. to 4 p.m on Monday and Tuesday at Flamingo Park.
As of Saturday afternoon, about 50 players were signed up. Registration is open at glta.tournamentsoftware.com.
City Hall officials have worked with several groups of athletes to salvage some of the events that were canceled. The only three that are proceeding as scheduled are aquatics, soccer and country western dance.
Miami Beach parks and recreation staff will oversee a field hockey tournament in the Flamingo Park soccer field on Monday through Wednesday. The basketball tournament will now be in the Scott Rakow Youth Center from Sunday through Monday. The soccer finals will be held in the Flamingo Park stadium on Friday.
The volleyball tournament may remain at the Seventh Street volleyball courts in Lummus Park. Official are still working on the details.
The city and the Greater Miami and Convention Visitors Bureau will host a reception Wednesday night for all registered athletes and their families at the Miami Beach Botanical Garden.
Local businesses such as the Palace Bar and the Gaythering are also welcoming OutGames visitors, offering food and drink specials and special entertainment. The Miami Design Preservation League is also offering free admission to its Art Deco museum in South Beach and free tickets to a lecture on historic preservation and the LGBT community on Wednesday.
Jaramillo, who helped put together the basketball tournament, said the city’s parks and recreation staff were especially helpful in making arrangements. With the disappointing cancellation of OutGames events, he and fellow players can at least still play the sport they love.
“It may not be what they expected,” he said. “But it’s something. ... It’s better than nothing.”
Even as participants worked to set up their own games, OutGames staff were no help.
D’Souza approached OutGames officials to request the victory medals so he could award them to the tennis tournament winners next week.
The response sowed further seeds of doubt that the OutGames was ever on track to succeed.
“No one in the organization can tell me where these medals are,” he said.