Whitehorse mulls hosting 2026 Arctic Winter Games, but council has questions

Athletes and other participants crowd the stage at at the closing ceremonies of the 2023 Arctic Winter Games in Alberta earlier this year. The Games’ international committee is looking for a new host for the 2026 event after deciding against Russia. (Julie Plourde/Radio-Canada)

The Arctic Winter Games could be coming to the Yukon in 2026, but the City of Whitehorse wants to get some things straight first.

The 2026 games were supposed to be held in Russia, but the Arctic Winter Games international committee opted to change locations in light of that country’s invasion of Ukraine. 

The committee first asked the Northwest Territories if it would step up, but the territory declined last month. N.W.T. is scheduled to host in 2028. 

The committee then asked the Yukon government in June.

Whitehorse city council considered the request at its meeting Tuesday. Although the territory was asked to host, city staff felt it was an indirect request for Whitehorse to host the event, since the city has the most capacity to host.

The games would cost approximately $9.5 million, according to city staff, of which Whitehorse would contribute $250,000 in cash and $500,000 in in-kind services. Staff told council the rest of the majority of the funding would have to come from the territory and federal government, and some would also come from sales and sponsorships associated with the event.

Staff recommended council request $4 million from the Yukon government, saying that would have to be secured by July 28 in order to accept the 2026 hosting gig. The deadline to begin negotiations with the games committee is July 31.

Should that territorial funding come through, staff recommended that council accept the hosting offer.

Whitehorse city councillors are looking for assurance that the territorial government would cover any deficit from hosting the event. (Sissi De Flaviis/CBC)

Coun. Ted Laking worries about a repeat of the city’s recent failed Canada Games bid.

“I’m just sort of wondering who’s the decision-maker in this process,” Laking asked city staff. 

“And I ask it from the context of what we just went through at the Canada Winter Games, in that it didn’t always feel like, even though we were a co-host, we were necessarily driving the bus.”

That bid was pulled unilaterally by Yukon government last fall, and city council later said it was blindsided by that decision.

Community Services director Krista Mroz told Laking these games would be different.

“At this point, and there’s been no formal decision made, the city is interested in exclusively hosting the Arctic Winter Games,” she said. “But the planning and the organization would be conducted by the ‘host society,’ which has a board of directors that provide the governance of that process.”

That society would include a representative from Yukon government.

Councillors also wanted assurance the territory would cover any deficit from hosting the Games, and that funding from other levels of government would be “new money” — in other words, that it wouldn’t take away funds from other city projects. Staff said the funding wouldn’t come from other areas, but couldn’t yet confirm that the territory would cover a shortfall.

Whitehorse was supposed to host the Arctic Winter Games in 2020, but that event was cancelled in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. That event was projected to bring in about $5.7 million, staff said this week, and a larger return is expected if the city hosts in 2026. 

The city last hosted the event in 2012.

Council will discuss the issue again next week before it goes on summer break.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Arctic Winter Games committee looks to Yukon as potential host in 2026, CBC News

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

United States: Veteran musher Brent Sass wins Yukon Quest 300, CBC News

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