By Paul Osborne

Gay Games 9 has officially kicked off in the United States ©Getty ImagesSporting action is underway in Cleveland and Akron as an estimated 9,000 athletes participate in the ninth edition of the Gay Games in the United States.

Although not exclusively for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, the Games were designed with the goals to promote the spirit of inclusion and participation, as well as to promote the pursuit of personal growth in a sporting event.

The Games are open to all who wish to participate, without regard to sexual orientation and there are no qualifying standards.

Competitors come from many countries, including those where homosexuality remains illegal and hidden.

Despite festive events kicking off on Wednesday (August 6), the 2014 Gay Games, or Gay Games 9, were officially opened last night with the Opening Ceremony.

Sporting action then got underway yesterday with the likes of triathlon and basketball joining the music, art and culture events that had been happening across the two cities over the previous few days.

New Zealand's 2010 Olympian Blake Skjellerup had the honours of being the final Torchbearer in the Opening Ceremony's Torch-passing ceremony that officially opened the Games.

"I believe so strongly in the power of and movement of sport," said Skjellerup, who came out after the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver where he placed 16th in the 1000 metres short-track speed skating.

"It brings people together and it's really great.

"The Gay Games coming to Cleveland can really help open some people's minds and change perspectives, especially at a time where same-sex marriage isn't yet legal [in Ohio], hopefully it can open that conversation," added Skjellurup, who is now an ambassador for the Gay Games.

"The conversation is already there, but it's about getting that legislation through."

The Gay Games blend serious sporting competition with a festival of culture, entertainment and music ©Getty ImagesThe Gay Games blend serious sporting competition with a festival of culture, entertainment and music ©Getty Images

Even as a major sporting event, the Gay Games are not primarily about medals with organisers keen to maintain the event's founding principles of "Participation, Inclusion, and Personal Best".

With this being said, many of the athletes participating do take the Games seriously, with competition available for the amateur and professional alike.

"Initially I thought this is a play-play game," said Michael Yates, a participant from Washington D.C.

"But, in fact, these athletes take it very, very serious.

"They are well prepared, they practice, practice, practice.

"And they are very disciplined."

Sport and entertainment is set to continue at Gay Games 9 until Saturday (August 16).

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