Arctic Winter Games dropped COVID-19 vaccine policy but not because of Alberta, official says
The committee says it supports any jurisdiction that still wants to enforce its own COVID-19 requirements
The president of the Arctic Winter Games International Committee is disputing a suggestion by the Alberta premier that the games' vaccination policy was changed in exchange for government funding.
"Nothing we have done has been contingent on funding," John Rodda told CBC News on Tuesday.
On Nov. 18, the Arctic Winter Games International Committee (AWGIC) said it revoked its policy on mandatory COVID-19 vaccines for attendees of the Wood Buffalo 2023 games in January. That decision was made "to align with current public health advice," according to the committee's news release.
At a news conference in Edmonton on Monday however, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith said she asked the Games to drop the vaccine requirement in response to the committee's request for funding.
"The Arctic Winter Games wanted $1.2 million from us to support their effort and they were discriminating against the athletes, telling them they had to be vaccinated," Smith said.
"So we asked them if they would reconsider their vaccination policy in the light of new evidence and they did."
Smith said in the Monday announcement that she was asking other Alberta organizations to drop their vaccination mandates. The Alberta premier previously made a promise to amend the Alberta Human Rights Act to prevent employers from refusing to employ Albertans who aren't vaccinated against COVID-19, but has recently backed away from that.
Asked about Smith's comments regarding the Arctic Winter Games, Rodda said she was "incorrect." He said it was actually $1.8 million, not $1.2 million, and that that money had been already been allocated to the games' host society in 2020.
"There was nothing conditional about it," Rodda said.
"Those funds were already directed two years ago, and so there was no exchange, if you want to call it, for lifting the policy for funding."
Rodda said the decision to drop the vaccine policy was based on what's happening in many jurisdictions and "taking into account all the current health advisory conditions."
'A team decision'
The Arctic Winter Games are scheduled to take place in the Wood Buffalo region from Jan. 29 to Feb. 4.
The event was scheduled for March 2022 but was postponed due to COVID-19. The Arctic Winter Games is held every two years and is an important circumpolar sports and cultural event for youth. Up to 2,000 people participate, with an equal number of volunteers, the organization said.
This year's Games will includes athletes from the Northwest Territories, Yukon, Nunavut, Alaska, Greenland, Nunavik, Northern Alberta and the Indigenous people (Sami) of Norway, Sweden and Finland.
Rodda said the games committee supports any jurisdiction that still wants to enforce its own requirements related to COVID-19.
"Any jurisdiction can still enforce their own policies. We're not telling them they can't do that. We're just lifting the umbrella policy," Rodda said.
The AWGIC said it is aware that COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses are still impacting the public, and asks people to stay vigilant to help stop the spread.
The committee said it is also "working closely with the Wood Buffalo 2023 Arctic Winter Games Host Society to encourage adoption of the recommended health measures at the time of these Games."
Those measures include masking, hand sanitization and "other actions" to help mitigate the effects of these diseases.
With files from Anna Desmarais