Arctic Sports could be included in the 2027 Canada Winter Games

The Canada Winter Games could include arctic sports like high kick and knuckle hop — that’s if Whitehorse is chosen as the Games’ next host city.

Members of the Canada Games Council Bid Evaluation Committee were in the Yukon capital to assess the territory’s bid to host the games in 2027.

The bid, launched in September 2021 by the City of Whitehorse and the Yukon government, proposed to include Arctic Sports and Dene Games in the Games lineup.

On Wednesday, Eric Porter of the Yukon Aboriginal Sport Circle demonstrates the one-foot high kick to members of the Canada Games Council’s Bid Evaluation Committee. (Sissi De Flaviis/CBC)

It would be the first time that Nordic sports would be part of the Games’ 55-year history.

Gael Merchard, executive director of the Yukon Aboriginal Sport Circle, said it was important to include northern sports at the national level.

« All of these games and sports have very unique cultural roots, » he said. « And very strong social values ​​that are really positive for all of Canadian society and it’s a very good tool for reconciliation. »

Reconciliation is one of the three principles of the bid, alongside connection and resilience.

Anthony Everett, chair of the Bid Evaluation Committee, said Yukon has a compelling story to share if it is to be chosen as the next host city.

During the committee’s three-day visit, committee members met with First Nations leaders and watched an arctic sports demonstration at the Canada Games Centre.

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Members of the bid judging committee tried out some of the sports like wrist carry, where an athlete hooks a wrist onto the center of a pole and the pole is then carried by two assistants. (Sissi De Flaviis/CBC)

« I think we have more questions about how other territorial governments and other provinces will engage and encourage athletes to participate in these events, » Everett said.

« But I’m very encouraged because it looks like an exciting opportunity for athletes to try new sports and they look like a lot of fun. »

The committee visit, known as the full review, is the second phase of the application evaluation. The first phase, a technical review, was conducted in February of this year.

Everett said the Canada Games Council’s board of directors will make the final decision to award the 2027 Canada Winter Games in November with a public announcement expected in December.

Why is Whitehorse the only submission?

The Canada Games are held once every two years, alternating between winter and summer. It is the largest multi-sport event in Canada for up-and-coming amateur athletes. The Games last two weeks with more than 15 sports, thousands of athletes, coaches and managers and more than 4,000 volunteers.

Since 1967, nine out of 10 provinces and the Yukon have hosted the games.

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Gael Merchard, executive director of the Yukon Aboriginal Sport Circle, said the inclusion of Arctic sports is a way to recognize Indigenous culture and heritage. (Sissi De Flaviis/CBC)

So why is there only one offer and why is it from a previous host?

Everett said that’s because the opportunity to host the games is swirling across the country and this year it was the Yukon’s choice.

« In that jurisdiction, it’s really only possible to hold it in Whitehorse. So it’s as simple as that, » he said at a press conference Wednesday.

While the territory’s proposal is still under consideration, Everett said there were no major concerns about Whitehorse becoming the next host.

If Yukon’s bid is unsuccessful, a new bid will need to be initiated and referred to the Canada Games Council who will explore options, including going to another jurisdiction, Everett said.

Two main concerns: finances and timelines

In late September, Whitehorse City Council voted in favor of the bid despite hesitation over finances and timelines.

At that time, the cost of new infrastructure, including a new sports complex with two hockey arenas and an athletes’ village, was estimated at $115 million, including approximately $17 million provided by the city.

The cost of a new athletes’ village would be « probably about $60 million, » said Piers McDonald, chair of the Whitehorse bid committee.

McDonald, who was also on the committee for the 2007 Games in Whitehorse, said one of the biggest challenges at the time was sponsorship and meeting the host company’s obligation to fund about a third operating costs.

« For us, that was a big workout. The reality of a small, remote community like this is that we don’t have a big industrial base to draw on, » he said.

McDonald noted that they are counting on national sponsors and hope to do the same this time around.

Another major concern was the territory’s ability to produce all deliverables on time.

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The existing Canada Games Center in Whitehorse, a legacy of the city’s 2007 Canada Games. (Vic Ischenko/CBC)

According to the expectations of the Games Council, the sports center with the two new hockey arenas should be finished by 2026 for a test match.

Peter Densmore is the president of Ketza Construction Corporation. His company built the Canada Games Center and Athletes’ Village used in the 2007 Games.

« The build itself was relatively simple and had some really interesting building challenges, which made it pretty fun, » he said.

Densmore said the dates for new installations are all achievable, as long as the contract delivery method can be decided fairly quickly.

“But if they delay the start of these projects too long for whatever reason, that obviously changes that calculation.”

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