By Nick Butler

The Gay Games got underway with an Opening Ceremony featuring a message from President Obama ©Gay Games ClevelandUnited States President Barack Obama lent his support via an unexpected video message as Gay Games 9 got underway with an Opening Ceremony at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland and Akron, Ohio.

Delegates from 51 countries and 48 US states attended the Ceremony, with an estimated 7,000 participants expected to attend the Games as a whole, which aims to "empower thousands of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) athletes and artists through sport, culture, and fellowship".

The celebration featured pop star Lance Bass, former bass singer for the boy band 'N Sync, the four-time Olympic diving champion Greg Louganis, and singer and actress Andrea McArdle, as well as legendary pop trio, the Pointer Sisters.

In his message, President Obama welcomed athletes, coaches, families and spectators from around the world to Ohio.

The US has come a long way in its commitment to equal rights for LGBT people, he claimed, before noting that some athletes come from places where publicly acknowledging their sexual orientation can put them at risk.

Obama then reaffirmed the US commitment to standing "with you and for your human rights".

Cleveland was selected in 2009 for the competition which features athletes of all ages, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, with the Games expected to generate $40 million (£24 million/€30 million) for the local economy.

The Games come to the region at an interesting time, as Ohio continues to be a key part of the ongoing battle over whether same-sex marriage should be introduced in the US.

The state has had a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage for the last 10 years, but this was strongly criticised at an appeals court last week. 

The appearance of Obama also underlines his to gay rights following the US opposition to Russian anti-gay rights laws in the build-up to the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games earlier this year.
Rather than attend the Games himself, the US delegation in Sochi was led by three openly gay athletes, former tennis player Billie Jean King, two-time Olympic ice hockey medallist Caitlin Cahow, and ex-figure skater Brian Boitano. 

Following the Ceremony to open the Gay Games, Steve Sokany, co-chair of the event, said the city was a good place to change minds, claiming "the tide is turning and I think these Games can have a tremendous impact".

He added: "We are trying to change stereotypes."

The Gay Games will continue over the next seven days, with more information available here.