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 ARCTIC WINTER GAMES - A HISTORY

 

Every second winter in late February or early March, since 1970, athletes and organizers from the Northwest Territory, Yukon Territory, and Alaska have gather to light the torch that symbolizes the spirit of the Arctic Winter Games. Northern Alberta, Northern Quebec, Greenland, and the Soviet Union, have also participated in the Games since 1990. The 1996 AWG hosted team delegations from Canada (Northwest Territories, Yukon, and Alberta), the United States (Alaska), Greenland, and Russia (Magadan and Tyumen). The AWG have remained true to their original purpose: "To furnish the opportunity through sport for the social and cultural meeting of Northern peoples." (Hurcomb, 1990) Today, the Games still emphasize sportsmanship, friendship, and cultural exchange, before winning.

After the 1967 Canadian Winter Games in Quebec City, the northern sports officials were worried that the poor performance of Northern athletes at the games might discourage other young athletes from participating in organized sports at any level. They conceived the idea of the AWG. It was reasoned that isolation, poor facilities, and enormous distances between communities made it difficult for Northern athletes to develop skills as quickly as their Southern counterparts. The first AWG were held in Yellowknife in 1970 in conjunction with the Northwest Territories' Centennial Celebration. Seven Hundred and Ten athletes from Alaska, Yukon Territory and Northwest Territories participated. One of the goals of the first Games was to provide a level of competition that was compatible with Northern skills, thus enabling the athletes to improve while they competed. Another objective was to involve "as many athletes as possible either in the Games themselves or in team trials, and to provide a forum of competition for those other than elite athletes with competitive opportunities in the south" (AWG, 1995). The Games also evolved as a solution to a problem that Northern people have faced for a long time - the boredom of long winter.

The AWG have been held in different communities every other year. The host community provides all the food, lodging, local transportation, equipment, and facilities required by the athletes, their coaches, trainers, and managers. Cultural events are always a highlight of the Games. These include singers, storytellers, drummers, dancers, dances for athletes, demonstrations of crafts, and traditional Northern games.

The AWG have been held, or will be held, in the following communities: (AWG, 1995)

1970 - Yellowknife, (NWT)

1972 - Whitehorse, Yukon

1974 - Anchorage, Alaska

1976 - Shefferville, Quebec

1978 - Hay River/Pine Point, (NWT)

1980 - Whitehorse, Yukon

1982 - Fairbanks, Alaska

1984 - Yellowknife, (NWT)

1986 - Whitehorse, Yukon

1988 - Fairbanks, Alaska

1990 - Yellowknife, NWT

1992 - Whitehorse, Yukon

1994 - Slave Lake, Alberta

1996 - Eagle River, Alaska

1998 - Yellowknife, NWT

The AWG Corporation, formed in 1968 and made up of two representatives from each participating province or state, reviews all sports activities prior to the Games for the purpose of deciding which events will be in the next AWG. Therefore, the sports played at the AWG are constantly changing. The events to be included are selected for their present levels of participation in communities, and by their potential for growth. In 1992, the AWG Corporation changed its name to the Arctic Winter Games International Committee to reflect the increasing international flavor of the Games. This committee, comprised of nine directors, supervises the overall development and implementation of the Games. The directors are volunteers appointed by the governments of the units they represent. Some of the committee's functions include: invite and review bids from communities wanting to host the Games; enter into formal agreements with Host communities which stipulate the terms under which the Games are awarded; oversee the preparation of a Host society for the Games; act as guardian and interpreter of the general philosophy, policies and rules of the Games; select events for the Games, and prepare the technical package of rules, categories, team composition, medals to be awarded, and the competition format.

Financial support for the AWG comes from state and municipal grants, corporate, community, and individual grants and donations, along with thousands of hours of volunteer effort and thousands of dollars of in-kind service donations. (AWG, 1995)

Instead of gold, silver, and bronze medals, miniature Ulu's, replicas of the traditional Inuit scraping knife, are presented to the winners in each competition and worn proudly by their recipients. It is common for athletes to offer help to other competitors, even those from opposing teams. Athletes cheer each other on and congratulate the winners. During the closing ceremonies, the philosophy of the AWG is put into practice. No aggregate point count is kept of the medal standings. However, the Stuart M. Hodgson Trophy, made from narwhal tusk and walrus ivory, is presented to the team that displays the most sportsmanlike conduct throughout the Games.

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Last modified August 14, 2006