Arctic Winter Games canceled because of coronavirus, Yukon officials say

The Arctic Winter Games, scheduled to begin March 15 in Whitehorse, were canceled Saturday due to concerns about the spread of the new coronavirus.

A contingent of 327 Alaskans, including about 275 young athletes from all over the state, were scheduled to travel to Canada next week for the weeklong event.

“I’m devastated for the athletes,” Team Alaska executive director Shawn Maltby said Saturday afternoon. “We have some who aren’t even old enough to understand what’s going on.”

All they know, Maltby said, is they were headed on a big road trip to meet and compete against kids from other Arctic communities.

The Arctic Winter Games, which began in 1970, are held every other year in an Arctic nation. This year’s event in Whitehorse was expected to showcase 2,100 participants competing in 21 sports ranging from skiing to hockey to curling to traditional cultural games. Alaska was among nine contingents scheduled to participate.

There are no known cases of COVID-19 in Yukon, according to a joint statement issued Saturday from Whitehorse 2020 organizers, the government of Yukon, the city of Whitehorse and Yukon’s acting chief medical officer of health said. It said the cancellation came at the recommendation of Yukon’s acting chief medical officer of health.

“It has been determined that cancelling the 2020 AWG is the most responsible precautionary measure,” the statement said. “This decision is a direct result of concerns around the spread of COVID-19 and is supported by the Arctic Winter Games International Committee.”

In Alaska, team selections have been held all winter long, and athletes who earned spots on the team have already been issued uniforms. Plane tickets have been purchased to get kids from 30 Alaska villages to Anchorage and Fairbanks, buses have been chartered to take team members from Anchorage and Fairbanks to Whitehorse and ferry tickets have been booked to take some from Juneau to Skagway, Maltby said

“This is two years of work,” he said.

He said he doesn’t know yet if Team Alaska will be able to get any refunds.

Most of the Alaskans were scheduled to depart Friday. Maltby said he was planning to travel to Whitehorse on Tuesday, and some officials were already on their way to Canada.

“I had no clue until I got a phone call around 11:30 (Saturday morning)," he said.

Maltby said that earlier in the week, members of the Whitehorse organization contacted various contingents to ask about their routes, including whether they would be traveling through Seattle, where there are numerous known coronavirus cases and 16 deaths so far.

Besides Team Alaska, other contingents headed to Whitehorse included Northern Alberta, Yukon, Northwest Territories, Greenland, Nunavik-Quebec, Nunavut, Sapmi (a cultural region covering the northern parts of Finland, Norway, Sweden and Russia) and Yamal, a northern region of Russia.