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Sports Talk: Time to revisit the idea of the Arctic Summer Games

So the Arctic Winter Games International Committee wants the NWT to host in 2026. That’s two years ahead of where it should be as the NWT is slated to host in 2028.
TJ Kaskamin of Fort Good Hope had the honour of carrying the NWT flag into the opening ceremonies of the 2018 Arctic Winter Games in Hay River. Yellowknife has been asked to consider getting on board to host the 2026 AWG, but the response was rather tepid. Time for the Arctic Summer Games to take shape. NNSL file photo

So the Arctic Winter Games International Committee wants the NWT to host in 2026. That’s two years ahead of where it should be as the NWT is slated to host in 2028.

The reason? Yamal in Russia was supposed to host and that isn’t happening anymore for reasons obvious to those who have paid any sort of attention to anything happening around the world over the past 11 months or so.

You’d think Mayor Rebecca Alty and city council would be keen on hosting something like this, right? Not so fast. The Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA), which handles everything related to sport and recreation territorially, was at city hall to ask the municipality to consider it. Gary Schauerte, the director of sport, recreation and youth under MACA, said Yellowknife was the only location being considered and that it would only go ahead with getting GNWT approval for a bid if Yellowknife was on board.

We won’t know what will happen until later this spring, but it isn’t a slam dunk. Several councillors and Alty herself weren’t too keen on the cost that the city would have to shoulder. If you take a look at what the contributions are from the municipalities hosting the 2023 and 2024 AWG — Wood Buffalo, Alta., and Mat-Su Borough, Alaska respectively — it’s in the neighbourhood of $5 million.

Alty mentioned that if the city was expected to come up with $5 million, taxes would have to be increased by at least 14.5 per cent either at once or over three years and she wasn’t willing to even entertain that idea, a non-starter as she called it. That should tell you that the sell won’t be easy. If someone who’s been at the AWG both as an athlete and coach, such as Alty has been, is lukewarm to the idea, then what would you expect from someone who’s never experienced the Games?

But here’s something I caught during Her Worship’s comments: if the Games were held in April, May or July, there would be an economic benefit to the city because those are low months for hotels.

Perfect. Allow me to rehash an idea that has been mentioned more than once: the Arctic Summer Games.

Let’s be honest — the Arctic Winter Games, as they stand, have become so big and so busy that it’s becoming a struggle for Yellowknife or Whitehorse or any other community in the North to host properly. Recall in 2016 when some sports were on the outside looking in for those Games in Greenland: no curling, no figure skating, no gymnastics, no dog mushing, no speedskating. Hockey ended up in Iqaluit after plenty of people bemoaned the fact that you can’t have the Games without hockey and even then, it was only bantam boys and the girls. The midget boys lost out.

Truth be told, Iqaluit could have hosted those other sports (one of my friends in the recreation department over there told me it wouldn’t have been a problem at all) but the international committee didn’t want to do that and the folks in Greenland bristled at the notion.

I can’t take credit for the idea of the Arctic Summer Games as that goes to Lorne Kusugak, a cabinet minister in the Nunavut government. Once it became knowledge that Greenland wouldn’t be able to host those six events, I had a chance to talk to Kusugak, who was then-minister of Community and Government Services, Nunavut’s version of MACA, in 2015. That’s when Kusugak told me about the idea of the Arctic Summer Games for exactly the reason I mentioned above: things are getting too big and too expensive as they are.

Here’s how Kusugak explained it:

Take sports that could be held in either winter or summer — basketball, volleyball, futsal etc. — and move them into a summer games format. Depending on how it looked when all was done, you could add some new sports. Keeping in mind, of course, that you don’t want the same problem as it stands now where you end up with something so big that it becomes unmanageable.

A split could look like this:

Winter Games

Alpine skiing (yeah, I know we don’t have alpine skiers, but it’s an event so it’s included), Arctic sports, biathlon ski and biathlon snowshoe, cross-country skiing, Dene games, curling, figure skating, hockey, snowshoeing, snowboarding and speedskating

Summer Games

Basketball, archery, futsal, gymnastics, table tennis, volleyball and wrestling

Judo could easily be added to the summer games, along with canoe/kayak. Track and field could be considered, maybe softball and golf perhaps?

Obviously, hosting fewer sports means it’s cheaper in the long run and fewer facilities would be needed. Kusugak also opined that smaller locales would be able to be more involved and that’s true. Only having to worry about 12 or so sports is better than having to find room for 20. And, as Alty indicated, hotels would be free(r) for a summer games and the city would benefit from people spending money during a time when it’s economically lean.

This is just a schematic of what it could look like, but it should be considered. We all want our young athletes to have a chance to play. This gives them an opportunity to do it, while communities don’t have to worry about coming up with a pile of money all at once. Smaller is always better, both for the public and for government. Not sure about the latter, but it’s nice to dream, right?

Why not consider it? Sure beats wondering whether the AWG will ever come back here. Besides, if the city doesn’t get on board for 2026, what does that mean for the GNWT’s bid for the Canada Winter Games in 2035? You think the city will sign on for a more expensive venture?

About the Author: James McCarthy

I'm the managing editor with NNSL Media and have been so since 2022.
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