Not all opinions of the 2018 Arctic Winter Games carry the same weight.
The most important opinion probably rests with Jens Brinch, president of the Arctic Winter Games International Committee, who liked a lot about the games, but has concerns about transportation issues.
Brinch said the games were a success, based on a good sports program, efficient workers and happy young people satisfied with their care and comfort.
They say it was a great week, he noted. “That is how we measure if it’s a success or not.”
Brinch also complimented the people of the South Slave as service-minded.
“I think the people of Fort Smith and Hay River have been excellent,” he said.
However, Brinch said a lot has been learned from the games for the future, especially about staging the event in communities so far apart.
“I don’t think that we will choose two cities that are so far from each other because that gave a lot of extra challenges, and the host society was depending on the support from the government because it costs a lot of money because of that,” he said. “But the idea of having smaller towns host could survive, but not with that long distance between the cities.”
In particular, he noted moving athletes to Hay River from Fort Smith for the opening and closing ceremonies took a lot of energy and planning.
Brinch said two nearby towns, say in Northern Alberta, could hold the games.
Asked if that means Hay River and Fort Smith would never be considered again as co-hosts, Brinch would not go that far.
“They would be considered, but then I think we would plan it another way, because we learned something here,” he said. “It might be that we would have an opening in one place, closing in the other place.”
The international committee itself wanted one opening ceremony and one closing ceremony in Hay River for the 2018 games, whereas South Slave organizers suggested ceremonies in both communities.
Brinch explained it is important there be one Arctic Winter Games, not two Arctic Winter Games.
The president said any future bid from the South Slave would have to find a way where transportation is not such a problem.
For instance, he said that maybe in the future the runway at the Hay River Airport would be longer to allow larger aircraft to land there. This year, planes from Greenland and Alaska had to land in Yellowknife.
On the positive side, Brinch said his organization learned people are more involved in small communities.
“It’s very visible that there’s an Arctic Winter Games compared to, for instance, in Fairbanks,” he said, noting some people in that Alaskan city might not even be aware the event is in their community.
“We’re glad that we’ve been here,” said Brinch. “We got wiser, they got wiser. We got happier, they got happier.”
The president did note members of the host society and volunteers – even the mayors of the two communities – dedicated more hours to the games than those in larger centres.
Greg Rowe, president of the South Slave Arctic Winter Games Host Society, recognized Hay River and Fort Smith were Guinea pigs to test holding the Arctic Winter Games in smaller communities.
“We knew that we were going to be a testing ground and we took great pride in ensuring that we deliver, because if we fail they don’t get a chance, and we didn’t want that on us,” he said.
Speaking on the second-to-last day of the games, Rowe described the event as an “overwhelming” success, based on comments from the chefs de mission and athletes.
The host society president said the South Slave games had been doubted as possibly not having the capacity, venues and volunteers.
“It gave us the strength to push through to show them that we can do it,” he said.
Rowe said there were enough volunteers – about 1,500 with an extra 100 among people visiting for the games – but he noted they put in long hours during the week.
“I truly believe that most of these volunteers here are putting in 70-80 hours,” he said, noting this compares to about 12 hours for volunteers at the games in Fort McMurray, Alta.
“We knew as a group that we could do it and we could do it differently. We could do it uniquely,” he said. “We could make the games special for these athletes.”
As for the possibility of bidding again in the future for another Arctic Winter Games, Rowe said, “I hope it’s not 40 years, but it may be a number of years. Maybe it doesn’t have to be the Arctic Winter Games. Maybe there’s something else that we can do.”
The Arctic Winter Games have shown the capacity of the South Slave, he said. “We all need to be very proud of our accomplishment.”