Yukon athletes focused on training for 2021 Canada Sumer Games are now waiting for 2022 following a Sept. 16 announcement that the national event will be postponed by about a year due to COVID-19.
The Canada Summer Games, which takes place every four years and draws upwards of 5,000 athletes, had been scheduled for Aug. 6 to 21, 2021 in the Niagara region of Ontario, but due to COVID-19 will be moved to the summer of 2022. No firm date has been set.
“Postponing the Games certainly wasn’t an easy decision, nor one that we took lightly, but we felt it was the right choice to make,” Doug Hamilton, chair of the 2021 Canada Games Host Society, said in a statement. “In all likelihood, moving ahead with the Canada Summer Games in 2021 would have prevented us from hosting the Games’ sport competitions and cultural events in the way that they were originally envisioned. By delaying the Games to the summer of 2022, we hope to give Games participants a greater opportunity to maximize their experience, while also ensuring that Niagara can realize the full potential of hosting Canada’s largest multi-sport event.”
The Canada Summer Games is one of many major sporting events that have been cancelled or postponed due to the global pandemic beginning with the cancellation of the 2020 Arctic Winter Games just a little more than a week before they were scheduled to begin in Whitehorse in March.
A long list of 2020 cancellations/postponements followed (including postponing the 2020 Summer Olympics) with a number being moved a year ahead.
The North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) originally scheduled for July 12 to 18 was among those postponed to 2021.
Both the Canada Games and NAIG are major events that draw Yukon athletes. Approximately 250 athletes, coaches and mission staff take part in the Canada Games and 175 in NAIG, Sport Yukon executive director Tracey Bilsky said in a Sept. 16 interview following the Canada Games announcement.
“There will be a lot of disappointment,” she said of the postponement.
At the same time, there is some relief for sporting organizations as gym space was not yet available for many groups to train and there remain a number of questions about competition even as groups get back to training.
Major events like the games are a big part of the motivation for athletes to keep training and working towards the goal of a national level competition.
With those events so far away now, athletes will be challenged to find new methods of motivation, Bilsky said.
And while some athletes may set their sights on perfecting their skills and mastering their sport with an eye to 2022 events, there remains a question of whether some athletes might age out of the competition.
It’s not yet clear what the postponements will mean for athletes who would have been competing in their last games due to age limits. NAIG organizers said they were exploring special concessions that might allow athletes who would have competed in 2020 but no longer meet the age requirement in 2021 to compete in their final Games.
Erin Mathany, Canada Games Council vice president of marketing, communications and partnerships, said in a Sept. 17 interview consultations will be underway with sport organizations and governing bodies to determine how age restrictions will be dealt with.
“That’s still to come,” she said.
This marks the first time a Canada Games has been postponed. The council will be working with its partners as it moves ahead planning for 2022. The next Canada Winter Games is not impacted by the postponement of the summer games and continues to be planned for 2023.
And while some athletes may focus their efforts on working towards new dates for major events, Bilsky said there may be some athletes who, while still eligible to compete, may move on to other things such as post-secondary education that take up time, making it difficult to dedicate time to their sport.
“It’s going to be a challenging year,” she said.
Despite the challenges, Bilsky also commented “there will be some silver linings.”
Among those silver linings is the opportunity for athletes to work on mastery of their sport without the pressure they might normally experience with a major event approaching.
Efforts will be made to help motivate athletes and assist coaches in finding ways to help with that motivation.
A number of organizations have already begun hosting virtual events including NAIG, which held NAIGatHOME during the week its games would have been hosted this year. It included a virtual marketplace and “mawio’mi” (Mi’kmaw for gathering, or powwow) and an interactive game that anyone could take part in for chances to compete and earn prizes.
Locally, there have been a number of virtual events such as the Special Olympics Yukon Be Active 30 Day Challenge, the virtual Klondike Road Relay and more.
As the Canada Games Council works on the details for the postponed games, it too will be working to help motivate athletes on its social media channels beginning with a message from speed skater Catriona Le May Doan, who has brought home two Olympic gold medals and a bronze and is an alumnus of the Canada Games.
In her message, the speed skater stressed the decision to postpone the games comes so that when they do happen it will be in “… safe environment and it will be the best games possible for you the athletes, for the coaches, for the families and for the host community.”
“So keep training, enjoy the process, know that the games are going to be absolutely amazing and it will be great competition. I look forward to cheering you on. We’re athletes; we can handle this.”
Mathany said the council is also planning to reach out to other athletes who have been impacted by postponements and cancellations due to COVID to provide advice to prospective Canada Games athletes who had been hoping to compete in 2021 on how to stay motivated.
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