AWG president defends slimmer Greenland games

“There’s no ice in Greenland,” according to Gerry Thick, president of the Arctic Winter Games’ International Committee. He was referring to recreational arena ice, of course.

“There’s no ice in Greenland,” according to Gerry Thick, president of the Arctic Winter Games’ International Committee.

He was referring to recreational arena ice, of course.

The City of Nuuk, Greenland doesn’t have an arena for speed skating, hockey, figure skating or curling, nor does it have a facility for gymnastics.

The country also has strict laws on dog breeding, because its sled dogs haven’t been interbred with any others for centuries. This includes a law against bringing any outside dogs into the country.

Because of all of this, speed skating, midget hockey, figure skating, curling, gymnastics and dog mushing will not be apart of the 2016 Games in Nuuk.

Yukon sport advocates are aware of the restrictions in Nuuk, but removing the sports entirely shouldn’t be the answer, said Tracey Bilsky, executive director with Sport Yukon.

“We’re not expecting Greenland to build an arena,” said Bilsky. “And we’re not trying to cause a lot of conflict, but in this case we just need to understand and come to some type of solution.”

There are other ways to keep these athletes competing, she added.

In 2002, Greenland co-hosted the Games with Nunavut and all the ice sports, like hockey, were held in Iqaluit.

But that was an experiment, said Thick.

“After 2002 the decision was made that there wouldn’t be a split Games again,” he said. “There was a whole bunch of factors. Cost was a big issue.”

But some sharing arrangements have been made for 2016. The host society has already prepared for a portion of the hockey events to be held in Iqaluit – but not all of them.

The cost is just too much, said Thick.

“Greenland has tried to build an ice surface,” he said. “They couldn’t do that but they recognize that ice sports are a big deal to the Canadian and Alaskan units, so in their bid they made a contractual agreement with Iqaluit to host some hockey. The reason it’s only some hockey is because all of the athletes have to go to Greenland. Greenland, at its expense, is transporting those athletes to Iqaluit for their parts of the competition and then back to Greenland.”

But why make the effort for some levels of hockey and not speed skating or curling?

The Arctic Winter Games was partly established to offer young athletes the experience of competing against their counterparts across the North, said Bilsky.

“This is their marquee event,” she said. “It is the competition they most look forward to.”

And for many athletes, like some of the territory’s gymnasts, it’s their only event.

Even Olympian Zach Bell has credited the Games for giving him valuable, early competition experience that prepared him for a future in professional athletics, Bilsky added.

The next Games will be held in Fairbanks, Alaska in 2014, with all sports included. But that doesn’t mean resolving this issue isn’t urgent, said Bilsky.

The affected sports are already concerned about recruiting and retaining athletes, she said.

There’s also the concern about precedence.

“We’d like to know, from year to year, will other sports be eliminated and will there be any type of consistency for preparation for the Arctic Winter Games or will this competition start to be watered down?”

Elaine Taylor, the Yukon’s minister responsible for sports and recreation, has already been contacted by Sport Yukon and others involved in the sports that have been cut from 2016, both Bilsky and Thick noted.

There is a chance some of the sports could find a way back into the 2016 Games, said Thick.

“If the six governments agree to fund that, then they will tell us,” he said. “There’s six permanent partners. They’re the ones that made that decision and they’re the ones that can review this if they wish to.”

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at roxannes@yukon-news.com

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