The Arctic Winter Games are off, but the economic hit in Canada is not

A file photo of the 2018 Arctic Winter Games in the N.W.T. On Saturday, Yukon officials announced the games, set to start March 15, were cancelled because of concerns over COVID-19. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC)
Yukon businesses will take a big hit from the cancellation of the 2020 Arctic Winter Games, says the territory’s economic development minister.

Minister Ranj Pillai, along with other government officials, were set to meet with local business leaders on Monday to talk about the economic impact.

On Saturday, local health and government officials announced the games were cancelled this year because of concerns over COVID-19. The event — set to draw more than 2,000 people from around the circumpolar North to Whitehorse — was set to begin this weekend.

“There are some businesses that have a really key role in [the Arctic Winter Games] that will be heavily impacted; those in the hospitality industry, food distribution, Air North,” Pillai said on Sunday.

He said it’s too early to measure the economic impact, but the plan is to encourage Yukoners to support local businesses to help soften the blow.

The games were set to begin in Whitehorse this weekend. Some local businesses ‘will be heavily impacted’ by the cancellation, according to the territory’s economic development minister. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

Yukon MP Larry Bagnell said he told Canada’s finance minister about the cancellation and that there may be requests for assistance.

“Like everyone else, I’m very sad,” he said.

The federal government previously put $1.5 million into the competition via Sport Canada’s hosting program, and Bagnell said all of that might not yet have been spent.

‘Huge’ financial issues

George Arcand, president of the Arctic Winter Games host society, said Monday morning he’s also just starting to take stock.

“Those [financial issues] are huge, and we have sponsors that we have to discuss whether or not we return monies, and … ticketing that’s been purchased.”

George Arcand, president of the Arctic Winter Games host society, says financial issues are huge. (Meagan Deuling/CBC)

The games’ General Manager, Moira Lassen, said Monday she was “still a bit gutted” by the decision to cancel.

Just a week ago, games officials were reassuring people that things were looking good, the COVID-19 risk in Yukon was low, and they were in “good shape” to handle it.

Lassen said by Friday, things had changed dramatically.

“George and I were at an emergency hand sanitizer meeting, which was kind of strange in the first instance,” she said.

“We only got six orders of our one-litre bottles [of hand sanitizer], out of like 75 that were ordered. So there was a shortage there.”

Lassen said there’s still lots of work to be done, even with the cancellation.

“Today I woke up kind of reinvigorated that now we can start decommissioning, which we always had to do because that’s what happens after the end of the games. But we just have to do it earlier,” she said.

Cancelled flights may hit Air North with $1M

Things are still being calculated, but Air North is bracing for an impact in revenue of more than $1 million, according to the company’s chief commercial officer, Benjamin Ryan.

Charter flights were cancelled by teams from Alberta, the N.W.T., and Quebec. Several customers cancelled trips on scheduled flights.

The company had been hired to provide ground and logistics support for other airlines with flights, and it also had some catering orders. All those sides of the business were hit.

The company is waiving fees and offering refunds for people whose plans changed due to the cancellation of the games.

Charter flights to Whitehorse have been cancelled, and several customers have cancelled trips on scheduled flights. (Murray Lundberg)

Ryan said the company respects the decision to cancel the competition.

“We’re just trying to be compassionate to the athletes and organizations, and think about safety, obviously,” he added.

Air Canada, meanwhile, is not making any special provisions for affected customers. In an email to CBC, the airline provided its policy on the impact of the coronavirus.

The policy says it’s waiving rebooking fees for flights involving some airports in Asia, Italy and Iran. But it says normal fare rules, including cancellation and change fees, apply to all other flights.

‘It’s significant’

The economic impacts go beyond Whitehorse. Visiting teams have already paid for trial competitions, uniforms, and put deposits down for travel and accommodations.

“It’s significant. I mean, we pour some significant resources into allowing all our communities to participate and vie for a position on Team NT,” said Doug Rentmeister, of Sport North in the N.W.T.

Archery NT would have sent eight athletes to Whitehorse this week. (Danielle d’Entremont/ CBC)

“Fortunately, we’ve been able to work with our charter companies to get the deposits back hopefully — knock on wood — and everybody seems to be understanding and sympathetic to the cancellation of the event.”

He estimates the N.W.T. government, through his organization, will have spent about $300,000 to $400,000 on an event that never happened.

The athletes will all be reimbursed for anything they’ve paid so far, he said. They’ll also get to keep their official uniforms.

With files from Steve Silva, George Maratos, Dave Croft, Claudiane Samson and Richard Gleeson

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: ‘Shocked and disappointed’: Arctic Winter Games cancelled due to coronavirus concerns, CBC News

Finland: Ice fishing World Championships latest in Finnish series of odd sports events, Yle News

Norway: First case of coronavirus tested in Arctic Norway, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Coronavirus: Russia hints it might close its border with Norway, Finland, The Independent Barents Observer

United States: No Alaska dog mushers at next Arctic Winter Games without ‘true competition’, CBC News

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