Arctic Winter Games

PJ Bragonier pushes off the starting line during Saturday's Arctic Winter Games Trials at Kincaid Park in Anchorage. 

This year’s Arctic Winter Games, scheduled to run from March 15-22 in Whitehorse, Yukon, were canceled Saturday because of concerns about the spread of COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus.

The novel coronavirus is contagious through human to human contact. It was first detected in Wuhan, China in December, and its most common symptoms are fever, coughing and difficulty breathing.

According to the World Health Organization website, as of 8 p.m. AKST Saturday, there were 103,168 cases reported worldwide, with 3,507 deaths in 95 countries.

In the United States, 213 cases and 11 deaths have been reported. Canada, where this year’s AWG was scheduled to take place, had 51 cases and no deaths reported.

The Arctic Winter Games, a biennial and circumpolar celebration of sports and culture, began in 1970 in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. The Fairbanks area has hosted three times — 1982, 1988 and 2014.

The cancellation for the 2020 AWG was first announced Saturday in a joint statement from the Whitehorse 2020 Arctic Winter Games Host Society, Government of Yukon, City of Whitehorse and Yukon Chief Medical Officer of Health.

The parties later had a media conference at the Government of Yukon Main Administration Building in Whitehorse. The media conference was streamed on the Whitehorse 2020 Arctic Winter Games page on Facebook.

George Arcand, president of the 2020 Arctic Winter Games Host Society, said the decision to cancel this year’s event was not made easily.

“We are disappointed, severely,”  he said during the media conference. “We are acting responsibly by following the recommendations of the chief medical offier of health.

Arcand said there will be a meeting over the coming days to build a plan for decommissioning this year’s AWG. The host society’s board of management and the AWG’s funding partners and stakeholders are scheduled to be involved.

Catherine Elliot, acting Yukon Chief Medical Officer of Health, strongly, and a few times emotionally, emphasized the risks of coronavirus in a setting like the Arctic Winter Games.

“I’m making this recommendation out of concern for the health and safety of Yukoners, of all athletes, staff, volunteers and their families, and for the home communities throughout the circumpolar north,” Elliot said.

“COVID-19 has changed the world,” she added. “It’s a contagious disease that spreads from person to person rapidly through respiratory secretions, and in a setting like the Arctic Winter Games, where people are eating and sleeping and playing together in such close quarters, the potential to spread is amplified greatly.

“Even in the absence of COVID-19 here (Whitehorse), a single suspected case of COVID-19 would have serious impacts.”

She used an example that a person who had a cough while traveling to the AWG would be tested and isolated in Whitehorse while awaiting results.

“The necessity for rapid and rigorous public health response with that individual for their contacts, for their guardians, and the isolation while waiting, even in negative result ... the potential for fear, the concern here and throughout the circumpolar north, these would be challenging in a setting of the Arctic Winter Games in Whitehorse,” Elliot said.

The AWG features more than 2,000 athletes, mission staff, coaches, officials and cultural performers from Alaska, Canada, Russia, Greenland, Finland, Sweden and Norway. Canada has five delegations (teams) — Northern Alberta, Yukon, Nunavut, Nunavik and Northwest Territories.

There are 20 athletic events in the Arctic Winter Games: Alpine skiing, Arctic sports and Dene Games, badminton, basketball, biathlon, Nordic skiing, curling, sled dog racing, figure skating, gymnastics, hockey, indoor soccer, snowboarding, snowshoe biathlon, snowshoe running, speedskating, volleyball and wrestling.

Hutchison High School senior Jacob Edgerley was scheduled to play for the Team Alaska junior men’s volleyball team in the 2020 AWG.

“I was sad but I think it’s good that they were looking out for our safety,” Edgerley, by phone Saturday, said of the cancellation. “My whole team was really excited and it was close (date wise) for us to leave (for the trip to Whitehorse).”

Longtime Fairbanks resident Wendell Shiffler was involved in the AWG from 1970 to 2014 in roles ranging from volunteer to administrator.

“This is the first time, to my knowledge, of it being canceled or postponed,” Shiffler said by phone. “First and foremost, the thinking was for the athletes and the community hosting the games.

“It’s disappointing, but in the long run, it may be the best thing. We won’t know until after all this plays out.”

This year would have marked the sixth time that Whitehorse was the AWG host. The other years were 1972, 1980, 1986, 2000 and 2012. 

The AWG also was conducted in Alaska in 1996 in Chugiak and Eagle River and in 2006 in the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

Contact News-Miner sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter: @newsminersports.

By Danny Martin

DMARTIN@NEWSMINER.COM

 

This year’s Arctic Winter Games, scheduled to run from March 15-22 in Whitehorse, Yukon, were canceled Saturday because of concerns about the spread of COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus.

The novel coronavirus is contagious through human to human contact. It was first detected in Wuhan, China in December, and its most common symptoms are fever, coughing and difficulty breathing.

According to the World Health Organization website, as of 8 p.m. AKST Saturday, there were 103,168 cases reported worldwide, with 3,507 deaths in 95 countries.

In the United States, 213 cases and 11 deaths have been reported. Canada, where this year’s AWG was scheduled to take place, had 51 cases and no deaths reported.

The Arctic Winter Games, a biennial and circumpolar celebration of sports and culture, began in 1970 in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. The Fairbanks area has hosted three times — 1982, 1988 and 2014.

The cancellation for the 2020 AWG was first announced Saturday in a joint statement from the Whitehorse 2020 Arctic Winter Games Host Society, Government of Yukon, City of Whitehorse and Yukon Chief Medical Officer of Health.

The parties later had a media conference at the Government of Yukon Main Administration Building in Whitehorse. The media conference was streamed on the Whitehorse 2020 Arctic Winter Games page on Facebook.

George Arcand, president of the 2020 Arctic Winter Games Host Society, said the decision to cancel this year’s event was not made easily.

“We are disappointed, severely,”  he said during the media conference. “We are acting responsibly by following the recommendations of the chief medical offier of health.

Arcand said there will be a meeting over the coming days to build a plan for decommissioning this year’s AWG. The host society’s board of management and the AWG’s funding partners and stakeholders are scheduled to be involved.

Catherine Elliot, acting Yukon Chief Medical Officer of Health, strongly, and a few times emotionally, emphasized the risks of coronavirus in a setting like the Arctic Winter Games.

“I’m making this recommendation out of concern for the health and safety of Yukoners, of all athletes, staff, volunteers and their families, and for the home communities throughout the circumpolar north,” Elliot said.

“COVID-19 has changed the world,” she added. “It’s a contagious disease that spreads from person to person rapidly through respiratory secretions, and in a setting like the Arctic Winter Games, where people are eating and sleeping and playing together in such close quarters, the potential to spread is amplified greatly.

“Even in the absence of COVID-19 here (Whitehorse), a single suspected case of COVID-19 would have serious impacts.”

She used an example that a person who had a cough while traveling to the AWG would be tested and isolated in Whitehorse while awaiting results.

“The necessity for rapid and rigorous public health response with that individual for their contacts, for their guardians, and the isolation while waiting, even in negative result ... the potential for fear, the concern here and throughout the circumpolar north, these would be challenging in a setting of the Arctic Winter Games in Whitehorse,” Elliot said.

The AWG features more than 2,000 athletes, mission staff, coaches, officials and cultural performers from Alaska, Canada, Russia, Greenland, Finland, Sweden and Norway. Canada has five delegations (teams) — Northern Alberta, Yukon, Nunavut, Nunavik and Northwest Territories.

There are 20 athletic events in the Arctic Winter Games: Alpine skiing, Arctic sports and Dene Games, badminton, basketball, biathlon, Nordic skiing, curling, sled dog racing, figure skating, gymnastics, hockey, indoor soccer, snowboarding, snowshoe biathlon, snowshoe running, speedskating, volleyball and wrestling.

Hutchison High School senior Jacob Edgerley was scheduled to play for the Team Alaska junior men’s volleyball team in the 2020 AWG.

“I was sad but I think it’s good that they were looking out for our safety,” Edgerley, by phone Saturday, said of the cancellation. “My whole team was really excited and it was close (date wise) for us to leave (for the trip to Whitehorse).”

Longtime Fairbanks resident Wendell Shiffler was involved in the AWG from 1970 to 2014 in roles ranging from volunteer to administrator.

“This is the first time, to my knowledge, of it being canceled or postponed,” Shiffler said by phone. “First and foremost, the thinking was for the athletes and the community hosting the games.

“It’s disappointing, but in the long run, it may be the best thing. We won’t know until after all this plays out.”

This year would have marked the sixth time that Whitehorse was the AWG host. The other years were 1972, 1980, 1986, 2000 and 2012. 

The AWG also was conducted in Alaska in 1996 in Chugiak and Eagle River and in 2006 in the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

Contact News-Miner sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter: @newsminersports.