Taking off the skates for the Arctic Winter Games

Due to Greenland's lack of facilities with ice, some athletes will be out in the cold.

Over the past four decades, the Arctic Winter Games have emerged as the Olympics of the circumpolar north, with athletes competing in a wide variety of events ranging from cross-country skiing to the more traditional “stick pull,” where players try to pull a greased stick from an opponent’s hand. But with the games set to take place in Nuuk, Greenland, in 2016, there’s concern that some northern athletes are getting the short end of the stick.

In September, games organizers rejected six events—including speed skating, figure skating, curling and midget-level hockey—because the city doesn’t have a suitable ice rink. Gymnastics events and dog mushing were also dropped, the latter due to laws that prevent foreign dogs from entering Greenland. In all, roughly one-quarter of the regular events have been cut, affecting up to 400 athletes from Alaska, Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, as well as parts of Quebec, Alberta, the Nordic countries and Russia. It’s created a political backlash in Canada’s territories. “Some of the games they’re omitting are winter sports that are quite common throughout northern Canada,” says Allan Rumbolt of the legislative assembly of Nunavut. “These sports should be included.” One alternative is to have multiple host cities. Nuuk and Iqaluit co-hosted the 2002 games, and in 2016 some hockey matches are scheduled to take place in Nunavut. To do that for so many sports, however, would drive up travel costs. For now, ministers from all three territories are meeting to discuss other ways to get the events reinstated—and avoid giving hundreds of athletes the cold shoulder.

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