For the second year in a row, the NWT Track and Field Championships will not be held because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The meet’s organizing committee announced in a Jan. 27 Facebook post that this year’s edition — which would have been its 30th anniversary — has been cancelled owing to the questions surrounding the safety of hosting such a large event in this time of Covid-19.
Tim Borchuk, who is co-chairman of the organizing committee, said there were too many what-ifs to make a decision to hold the event when he and co-chairman J.J. Hirst sat down on the afternoon of Jan. 27 and talked about it.
“There are still a lot of unknowns out there, and a super spreader event that size could affect the entire territory,” said Borchuk.
The championships in June host more than 1,100 participants, including close to 900 out-of-town athletes, and is the largest annual sporting event in the NWT.
Many of the competitors sleep in classrooms or in other buildings and all in close quarters, which presented the possibility of spreading Covid-19.
Borchuk said that was a chance the organizers weren’t willing to take.
“We generally get about 20 to 25 kids in one room and they’re all close to each other,” he said. “That’s so dangerous, especially now. I’m just not sure it would be good to host that many people considering everything that’s still happening. I know so many people and I wouldn’t want to be responsible for something happening to someone or to a community.”
The cancellation means an economic hit to Hay River, which always sees an increase in spending during the championships due to such things as hotel reservations and shopping.
Borchuk said he knows it will affect the bottom line.
“Track and field is synonymous with Hay River, one and the same,” he said. “I don’t like making the decision to cancel, but it’s only prudent that we did. It’s sad but good at the same time because we’ll still be here next year.”
As for the 2022 event, Borchuk said there’s no idea what that will look like, but he’s confident there will be a meet of some sort.
“It could be on a smaller scale or we could throw open the doors and have a huge event,” he said. “I don’t know, but we’re planning for 2022.”
Harry Cassie, the president and head coach of Athletics NWT, was not surprised by the decision, noting such school events have been cancelled all over Canada.
“So with that, I expected that the games would be cancelled,” he said.
Cassie, who lives in Norman Wells, added he agrees that the safety of young people is of paramount importance.
The Athletics NWT president also said that organizing the event takes a lot of co-ordination and effort.
“I think it’s the right call and the right time, basically because you don’t want to wait last minute and then cancel,” he said.
Hay River Mayor Kandis Jameson was disappointed, but supports the decision to cancel this year’s event.
“Of course, my initial reaction was that it’s so sad because it is such an exciting event,” she said.
“Everybody looks forward to it,” she added. “I know I certainly do. But it’s prudent in the times we’re living in, definitely.”
Jameson said that, considering the time and the cost that goes into planning for the event, it makes sense to announce the cancellation decision now instead of waiting to see what happens.
“So I think it was a wise decision, and it’s prudent when you bring everything into the equation that it would make sense,” she said. “Every day this Covid thing changes and unfortunately it’s the way it is.”
Jameson recognizes that the cancellation will have an economic impact on Hay River, but said public health is a bigger concern.