The Arctic Winter Games flame burns in Fort Smith. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
The Northwest Territories will not host the 2026 Arctic Winter Games, the territorial government said, refusing a request to plug a gap in the event’s hosting schedule.
The Arctic Winter Games International Committee had asked the NWT to host the 2026 event because Russia’s Yamal region, the location originally chosen, is now barred over the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
But officials in Yellowknife, considered the only community in the territory capable of hosting the Games at relatively short notice, expressed concern about the municipality’s ability to cope.
Told in January that around $5 million might be needed at the city’s level – from a combination of the municipality and sponsors – Mayor Rebecca Alty said that would “be a challenge,” while also suggesting the NWT government would struggle to find the $10 million it was estimated to need.
By March, city council’s skepticism of the practicality of hosting in 2026 hadn’t changed. There were also concerns about the city’s ability to accommodate the thousands of athletes, coaches, volunteers and spectators who would attend.
In the territorial legislature on Tuesday, Shane Thompson – the minister with responsibility for sport in the Northwest Territories – said the GNWT had now formally advised the Arctic Winter Games International Committee that the territory cannot host the 2026 edition of the Games.
Where that event will now be held is not clear.
The NWT does still remain in line to host in 2028, as was always the case.
Yellowknife has hosted the event in 1984, 1990, 1998 and 2008. More recently, Hay River and Fort Smith co-hosted the 2018 edition. This year’s edition – the first since 2018, thanks to Covid-19 – took place in Fort McMurray, and the Games will return next year in Alaska.
“We’re not moving up in the schedule,” Thompson told colleagues in the legislature.
“Ultimately, the decision was the City of Yellowknife’s to make and I respect their decision. While this is a difficult decision, no successful Arctic Winter Games has ever happened without an enthusiastic and committed community government.
“While we were not successful with the 2026 Arctic Winter Games, I remain supportive of these Games … the 2028 Arctic Winter Games are supposed to be scheduled for the Northwest Territories, and that’s what we’re looking forward to.”
‘I don’t understand their hesitation
In January, Alty said a “deep dive” was required to get the Arctic Winter Games “to a place where it can survive.”
“All multi-sport games are getting tougher and tougher to host, because these costs are too much for taxpayers to bear,” the mayor said at the time.
Deh Cho MLA Ron Bonnetrouge, by contrast, told the legislature on Tuesday that he had hoped the event could go ahead in Yellowknife.
“It has already proven that it’s more than capable of hosting these Games. The NWT last hosted the Games in 2018, which Hay River and Fort Smith co-hosted very successfully. I don’t understand what their hesitation now is to host the Games in 2026,” Bonnetrouge said.
Bonnetrouge had been pressing the minister on Indigenous representation at events like the Canada Games and Arctic Winter Games, after multiple reports earlier this year highlighted that Team NT predominantly featured athletes from Yellowknife.
Asked by Bonnetrouge why the territory did not track Indigenous representation in Team NT, Thompson said his department “is interested in tracking different performance measures, such as gender equity, community participation and Indigenous participation, and we will be tracking this data in the near future.”