German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier opened the fourth edition of the annual sports and cultural event in Berlin's Jahn Park stadium on Saturday. The centrepiece of the three-week long event is a football tournament with 58 youth teams.
But this year's event has been overshadowed by controversy after Erkut Ergiligür, a footballer at the traditional Berlin club Türkiyemspor, said he no longer wants to advertise for Respect Gaymes after facing continuing discrimination for appearing on the event's poster.
The poster, which is plastered all over the city, shows Ergiligür posing shirtless, a leather ball in his hands with the event's motto “Show Respect for Gays and Lesbians” scrawled across it.
The same poster was used to advertise Respect Gaymes last year too. But the 21-year-old Ergiligür, who has Turkish citizenship, told Berlin daily Die Tageszeitung that he had to put with constant harassment and slurs in his private life after posing for it.
Ergiligür said he didn't want to be the poster boy for the Respect Gaymes a second time because of the experience. But he claimed that organisers of the event had used the same poster this year without asking him for permission.
“I'm really pissed off. The organisers should be happy that I'm not suing them,” Ergiligür told the paper.
Türkiyemspor's press spokeswoman Susam Dündar-Isik said Ergiligür had not been treated normally by his friends ever since he appeared on the poster and was constantly asked if he was gay.
“I've experienced this too ever since Türkiyemspor became involved in this,” Dündar-Isik told Neues Deutschland. “But that's a sign for me that we have to work harder to fight the very widespread homophobia among youth,” she said.
Die Tageszeitung reported that former professional Berlin boxer Oktay Urkal, who also once advertised for Respect Gaymes, has since regretted doing it.
“Urkal doesn't want to speak about the Respect Gaymes. You can imagine yourself why that's the case,” his trainer Frank Bleydorn told the paper.