By Jessie Pang
HONG KONG (Reuters) -Hong Kong will be the first Asian city to hold the Gay Games from Friday, co-hosting them with a Mexican city in one of the financial hub's biggest events since COVID-19, despite ban calls from rights activists and lawmakers opposing LGBTQ efforts.
The Chinese-ruled city has no law against discrimination based on sexual orientation and does not recognise same-sex marriage, but its LGBTQ community has scored some legal wins this year.
The most significant was a September ruling by its top court that set a two-year deadline for the government to establish a legal framework to recognise same-sex unions.
More than 2,300 athletes from 45 countries, including Britain, China, South Korea and the United States, are expected to participate, the organisers, the Gay Games Hong Kong (GGHK) said.
"Not only have we been able to introduce the games to the region, we have the highest number of participants ever from Asia join the Gay Games in its 41-year history," Alan Lang, the body's co-chair, told a press conference on Thursday.
The government in the former British colony has approved the Gay Games, which run until Nov. 11, but advised organisers to follow laws and regulations in a "safe and orderly manner"."Our aim is not to advocate for any specific political or legislative changes but to provide a platform for sports, arts, and culture that promotes inclusivity and diversity," the games' organising committee said this week.
Among the sports and cultural events to feature are some of Chinese origin, such as dragon boat racing and mahjong, while a new trail running event is to be held on mountainous Lantau island.
Worries about the national security law Beijing recently clamped on Hong Kong will keep Taiwan's delegation away, however.
"The main reason ... this time is that the safety of Taiwanese players cannot be guaranteed," said Yang Chih-chun, of Taiwan's Gay Sports and Movement Association, adding that it had been "a painful decision" not to send the athletes.
Taiwan's athletes will go instead to Mexico's western city of Guadalajara, which is co-hosting the games at the same time.
Several Hong Kong lawmakers have voiced public opposition to the event, saying it posed threats to national security threats, subverted traditional Chinese family values and followed a "western ideology".
Five Hong Kong human rights activists also called for the games to be cancelled, saying the organisers "aligned themselves with pro-authoritarian figures responsible for widespread persecution" in Hong Kong.
"We've always respected the law and followed the law... We hope that all of our participants will follow Hong Kong's laws and culture," GGHK's co-chair Lisa Lam said on Thursday.
Many events are to be held at private venues, universities or schools, with the opening and closing functions scheduled in a stadium in the busy commercial district of Wan Chai.
Beijing's national security law, imposed in 2020 after months of anti-government protests, punishes acts such as subversion, collusion with foreign forces and terrorism with terms of up to life in prison.
Hong Kong and mainland China have said the security law has brought stability after the 2019 protests.
(Reporting by Jessie Pang; Editing by Farah Master and Clarence Fernandez)