There is a recurring theme among those coaches and teams that were all set to travel to Whitehorse for the start of the 2020 Arctic Winter Games on March 15: extreme disappointment.
The host society pulled the plug on the Games Saturday afternoon on the advice of Yukon’s acting chief medical health officer, Dr. Catherine Elliott, due to the increasing risk and spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). The recommendation was described by the host society in a news release as “the most responsible precautionary measure.”
Naturally, the decision was a tough one to swallow for some coaches, such as Matt Craig, head coach of Team NT’s boys basketball team.
He said cancelling the Games was the responsible thing to do because of what’s happening around the world but it was a devastating decision.
“That’s the best way I can put it,” he said. “The kids on our team have been working hard for so long, some of them since the last Games in 2018. They wanted to go out there and win it for their teammates and for those who played in 2018 and who came so close last time. The goal for all of them was to get gold and to not get the chance to do it is a tough pill to swallow.”
The boys basketball competition would have seen just three teams entered: the NWT, Yukon and Nunavut. Alaska and Alberta North didn’t enter a team to compete, meaning the NWT was guaranteed a podium finish of some sort.
Don Reid, head coach of the wrestling team, said it was disappointing to be told because of all the time his young grapplers have put in.
“They’ve made a lot of sacrifices and we’re just a week away so we were starting to begin our mental preparation,” he said. “Some of our kids were really looking forward to getting a chance to go and win gold because they had some unfinished business. The Games is something they’ll remember for the rest of their lives and I’m gutted for them but there’s always other tournaments and our kids will fight another day.”
Just like Craig, though, Reid said the decision of the host society to cancel the Games was probably the best thing that could have been done considering the circumstances.
“The first and foremost concern should always be the health and safety of the athletes,” he said. “I think they did the right thing, based on all the information that’s out there, because you don’t want the liability if something goes wrong or someone gets really sick.”
Speedskating was one sport where the NWT was expected to do well in and the decision was a tough one to take for Kerry Egan, the team’s head coach.
She said she was heart-sick over it.
“You send that e-mail out to the kids and you don’t know what to say,” she said. “I had high hopes for this team because we’ve worked so hard and we’ve worked to raise our game. The kids were ready, so ready.”
Joe Acorn, the junior boys futsal coach, said he found out about the cancellation during a team practice on Saturday and it was a huge letdown.
“You feel bad the most for the kids,” he said. “For some of them, this was their last shot to do this. I had about five or six kids who have never represented the NWT before and unless they change the ages, they won’t get to do it.”
But unlike other coaches who felt the cancellation was the right thing to do, Acorn felt the host society may have pulled the plug too soon.
“I think they over-reacted,” he said. “Take a look at where the kids are coming from: the NWT, Nunavut, Alaska, northern Alberta, Greenland. None of those places are affected by the outbreak and there aren’t any cases anywhere there. We’ve gone from washing our hands and practicing proper hygiene a week ago to cancelling the Games. That’s a big leap. If there was an outbreak, fine, cancel it. But I think the Games could have gone off fine.”
There was no word on Saturday as to a refund of registration fees, if any, or what will happen to the team uniforms or any other information coming out of the Team NT camp.
Doug Rentmeister, Team NT’s chef de mission, did not return calls to NNSL Media as of publication of this article.
Stay tuned for further updates as they become available.