The City of Whitehorse has voted in favour of the hosting opportunity for the 2026 Arctic Winter Games (AWG).
The city received an administrative report from Krista Mroz, the city’s director of community services, for an opportunity to host the Games during the standing committees meeting on July 4.
The 2026 Games were planned to be hosted in Yamal, Russia. However, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, the Arctic Winter Games International Committee (AWGIC), which heads the hosting of the competition, suspended Yamal’s participation, resulting in the absence of a host.
The Yukon was set to host the Games in 2020, but the sporting event was cancelled due to the pandemic.
Coun. Michelle Friesen, who chairs the community services committee, said the committee provided information on the responsibilities of the hosting city and that a host society would be established to deliver the Games.
Recommended commitments required from the government in order for the city to be the host include $4 million in funding and in-kind staff support as needed by the host society.
Additional information was provided on discussions with community partners to further assess community support and interest with potential partner agencies.
“The committee agreed that a condition for Yukon government funding should specify that all funding for the Games be new funding and not funding intended for other city initiatives,” Friesen said.
Council will advise the Yukon government that the city is prepared to host the 2026 Games subject to receiving the Yukon government’s financial and other commitments by July 28.
The vote by council authorizes city administration to enter into negotiations with the Games’ international committee to host the 2026 AWG in the territory.
If the Yukon government provides its commitment by the July 28 deadline, the city and Yukon government would then have to communicate intent to host the Games to the international committee by July 31. If all is approved, a contract to host the games will be developed over the fall.
Voting in favour, Mayor Laura Cabott said the city is well known as a sports city, having hosted the Games previously.
“We are known to host this sports event and do it very well. In fact, when we host these events, history shows that we are able to do it in a less expensive way but in a highly successful way,” she said.
Cabott said with the city coming into the hosting duties for the 2026 AWG late, it will have to hustle a lot more for sponsorships.
She said it was disappointing that the city could not host the AWG in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think we were the first sports events in North America that had to cancel its events due to COVID,” she said.
Coun. Kirk Cameron said despite the limited time, he is confident the city will be a great host. Cameron, who was a silver medalist in the 1974 AWG in Anchorage, Alaska, said, “This is a big deal to me. It’s great that we can do it. So I’m all supportive of it.”
Sports Yukon president Stacey Lewis and executive director Tracey Bilsky led a delegation for public support on hosting the AWG during the meeting.
Lewis said Sport Yukon was there to support the city to vote in favour of hosting the AWG. She said the work already done on the cancelled 2020 AWG makes Whitehorse well-prepared to host the 2026 Games in terms of existing facilities, infrastructure, organizational experience and capacity.
“Sports Yukon conferred with the 20 relevant sports governing bodies that will be directly involved in the games and received indication of support for hosting the 2026 Games,” she said. “Additionally, we received letters and expressions of support from Yukon University, Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, Yukon Convention Bureau and the Tourism Industry Association, all key community partners necessary for the successful delivery of these events.”
Lewis said the AWG was designed from the beginning as the celebration of northern culture. The vision of these games that started in 1970, she said, continues as the platform in which northern youth can flourish. Historically, Yukoners have benefited from that and have had tremendous success at the AWG, she said.
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