2022 Arctic Winter Games put on hold due to pandemic

The Arctic Winter Games International Committee has announced the postponement of the 2022 Arctic Winter Games that were set to take place in Wood Buffalo, Alberta.

The Games were set to take place in Wood Buffalo, Alberta

Athletes danced and waved along to performances at the closing ceremonies of the 2018 Arctic Winter Games in Hay River, N.W.T. The 2022 Games were set to take place in Wood Buffalo, Alberta. (Mario DeCiccio/CBC)

The Arctic Winter Games International Committee has postponed the 2022 Arctic Winter Games, that were set to take place in Wood Buffalo, Alta.

In a news release Wednesday morning, the committee described the decision as a "proactive response to the global COVID-19 pandemic" after conversations with the Wood Buffalo host society, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo and the government of Alberta.

"There were just no guarantees for us," John Flynn, the president of the Arctic Winter Games International Committee, told the CBC. "We do not want to say cancelled…. [but] right now, we don't really have a date."

The Games were originally scheduled to take place from March 6-12. Flynn said organizers will be looking for alternate dates for the 2022 event.

The high-profile circumpolar sporting competition normally runs every two years.

About 2,000 athletes from around the world — including Russia, Greenland, Finland and Norway, as well as Yukon, Nunavut, Nunavik, Northwest Territories, northern Alberta and Alaska — usually attend.

This is the second Games in a row to be affected by the pandemic, following the cancellation of the 2020 games that were set to take place in Whitehorse.

Those games were called off just a week before the event was scheduled to start — something Flynn said organizers wanted to avoid in 2022.

"That was a big factor," he said. "We really don't want what happened in Whitehorse to take place in Wood Buffalo."

Health and safety are 'paramount concern'

Wednesday's release said the decision to postpone the games "was made to ensure the health and safety of all the participants, coaches, volunteers, staff, spectators and the host community."

The committee also said the pandemic would likely prevent them from hosting a meaningful experience.

"The health and safety of our circumpolar participants, coaches and volunteers is of paramount concern, and although it is a great disappointment that we must postpone the 2022 Arctic Winter Games, we are steadfast in our decision," Flynn is quoted as saying in the release.

"We analyzed the relevant risks and considered our tolerance for those risks, and we learned from best practices employed by other major games leaders to come to this difficult decision," the quote continues.

On CBC Yukon's Airplay Wednesday, Flynn said he feels "very sorry for the young athletes."

"They say they have nowhere to put their energies," he said. "We understand how important the Arctic Winter Games is to them."

Melissa Blake, co-chair of the 2022 Wood Buffalo Arctic Winter Games, said in the release that the host society supports the international committee's decision and understands the "significant considerations" involved.

"We would like to thank the community and our volunteers for their continued support as we prepare to welcome the circumpolar North at a later date," Blake said.

Aaron Wells, executive director of Aboriginal Sports Circle NWT, said that it's disappointing news to hear following the cancellation of last year's Games.

"I feel bad for the athletes and the coaches and especially athletes that may never get to experience the games if they're postponed long enough," said Wells.

"But I do understand that there's a lot of decisions and factors that are taken into place to kind of come up with these decisions."

Wells said that the Aboriginal Sports Circle was also looking forward to archery being introduced to the games in 2022, after its premiere was cancelled along with the Games in 2020.

"It definitely has a major effect on athlete development in helping prepare for other major games or other tournaments or national events."

But despite the difficult news, Wells, who is also a long-time basketball coach, said that within five minutes of receiving it, a number of different coaches were reaching out to each other about different opportunities they can provide to athletes.

"It's not like we sit around and pout about these games being postponed indefinitely. We move on to the next potential event or what we can do to make sure that these athletes are getting the opportunities they deserve."

with files from Garett Hinchey and Paul Tukker