Yellowknife can host 2023 Canada Games, says report

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Yellowknife has the resources to host the 2023 Canada Games according to a new report.

A working committee established by city officials delivered its verdict on Wednesday, after a year examining the pros and cons of hosting such a large sporting event.

The report does not specifically comment on whether Yellowknife should press ahead with hosting the Games – but says the city is capable of meeting all the criteria.

However, the report says vocal opposition so far from the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce could be “a serious impediment to success” if concerns among the city’s business community are not addressed.

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Accommodation is also identified as a substantial risk to the project if it goes ahead.

Public events on Thursday and Saturday (details) have been arranged to explain the report’s findings to residents.

“The City of Yellowknife has a proven track record in hosting the Arctic Winter Games,” the report’s summary reads. “The Canada Winter Games are essentially the same in terms of the number of athletes that will compete on a weekly basis.

“In order for a city the size of Yellowknife to successfully host a Canada Winter Games all stakeholders must be on board and work as one; if not, the task may be too great.

“However, the community came together to host successful Arctic Winter Games in the past, regardless of the economic climate of the times. Based on this history, there is no indication that the community wouldn’t once again come together to host a successful Canada Winter Games.”

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More: Canada Winter Games report information and how to give feedback

Any bid would need to cater for around 3,000 athletes and 4,500 volunteers, plus thousands of visitors.

There had been concerns that the Games are too big and costly for the city to handle, with associated fears that hosting the event in February or March – as is planned – could damage aurora tourism if accommodation and other services are booked up. The committee says it took those issues into account and remains satisfied.

On the other hand, hosting an event of this magnitude brings a range of opportunities for the territory’s youth and economic benefits of its own, alongside the prestige of welcoming thousands of Canadian athletes and visitors. The working committee emphasized that each host city since 1993 has generated a surplus from the event.

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The report concludes that Yellowknife has the ability to recruit the thousands of necessary volunteers, can afford its $15 million share of the projected overall $50.3 million cost (much of which is covered by federal, territorial and sponsor contributions) and can pay for required venue upgrades.

“The community could arguably be the smallest city to be awarded a Canada Winter Games if city council decides to proceed with a submission,” the report notes.

“Major obstacles … are housing for athletes, which will require a financial commitment of $11.3 million from the city/host society, recruitment of volunteers to make up a shortfall of approximately 1,500 volunteers and available hotel rooms.”

‘Contingent on housing’

The Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) would need to supply an additional $26.5 million, on top of the city’s $11.3 million and not factored into the budget published on Wednesday, to build enough new accommodation for athletes.

The GNWT has not confirmed its ability to supply that funding, though the working committee says the territorial government has ‘indicated’ readiness to support that approach.

“The Games are contingent on the GNWT being able to provide housing,” said Leanne Tait, president of Tait Communications and a working committee volunteer, who led a presentation of the report to journalists.

The current plan calls for that accommodation to be turned into senior and social housing in the aftermath of the Games.

A new aquatics centre, already planned by the city at an eight-figure cost, must also be built for the full schedule of Games events to take place – but is considered a separate project and not included in the Games budget.

Business confusion

A task force put together to examine the impact on businesses reported “confusion within the business community” on the potential cost of the Games, partly founded on the perceived lack of a clear budget thus far.

“Several vocal business representatives have voiced lack of trust in the city and in the process,” the task force said.

“There is a need for active communication and dialogue with the business community.”

The 23-strong committee, formed in February 2015, included municipal and territorial government representatives alongside business executives, sports administrators and community leaders.

The decision to host the Games is not yet final. The report makes clear that while Yellowknife has the resources to host the Games, that is not the same as recommending it actually do so.

Public consultations will take place on Thursday and Saturday this week, with feedback welcome until February 5.

The final decision lies with city councillors. Canada Games organizers are pressing for Yellowknife to give a definitive answer in the near future.

Editions of the Canada Games are awarded to each province and territory on a rotating basis. Should Yellowknife turn down this chance to act as host, officials say the city may have to wait until 2049 for its next opportunity.

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