Add Sport Yukon to the list of organizations disappointed with the Yukon government’s decision to cancel the 2027 Canada Games bid. The Star spoke to Sport Yukon Executive Director Tracey Bilsky today about the decision.
“Being a member of the bid committee, I was really surprised to see, you know, to learn it through a press release. But at the same time, other than being shocked, I was definitely saddened to hear that … the bid was just being cancelled.”
Bilsky expanded on her disappointment with the decision.
“Well, it’s hard to argue with numbers.
“There are so many benefits to hosting a multi-sport event such as that I mean, we’re still feeling it from 2007, known as one of the best Canada Games hosted. People were extremely excited to come back to the North. We hosted a really unique experience for them in 2007, and the benefits that we reaped from hosting that event, both in infrastructure, but also in volunteerism, and then building the capacity of sport organizations, was really priceless.
“It felt like it was a bright light that was coming for sport. Especially after the cancellation of the 2020 games for all those sport organizers. I know myself I was the vice president of sport for those games. And when I sat with our 30 sport chairs after the cancellation there’s a lot of uncertainty, of course different but at the same time, everything everyone had worked for was gone.
“So this felt like a resurgence of motivation. The ability to look forward and work towards something to train officials, to train your coaches, to motivate athletes and to get all the organization’s structures and facilities up to par to host and it was exciting and so I think all of yesterday was about processing the news and realizing ‘oh my gosh, all of these opportunities are now gone.’
“At Sport Yukon we’re responsible for sport tourism, and our coordinator was just at a tourism conference where she met with a multitude of national sport organizations who all had heard that the Canada games were going to be in Yukon and were planning different test events. Badminton was going to come up as a winter sport. We have of course all of the Alpine events who were excited to come and those national organizations want to come to the community that’s going to be hosting a game so they can familiarize their athletes. And so there would have been a multitude of events that we would have hosted here on top of those Canada Games.
“So there’s all these intangibles in hosting 2007 I’m aware of. I know even when we talk about building the capacity of volunteers that came in, in the medical field, for example, we had to make sure that they had enough people to – as many medical professionals as possible who are going to be able to work during that week and during those two weeks and volunteer and so that we wouldn’t have to bring up as many from down south.
“So it wasn’t just the sport organizations that were excited. It was all different facets of the community. The local businesses were ordering in and creating works and there was a massive cultural festival so artists were able to showcase their – so the benefits go far beyond sport and I know that people sometimes think sport is about elitism but the Canada Games isn’t about that. It’s about building capacity. It’s about leaving legacies.
“You can imagine our community without the Canada Games Centre now. We wouldn’t have that if we hadn’t hosted in 2007. That wasn’t a popular decision back in the day and there was a lot of naysayers about spending that much money but if you think about it now it’s a part of our community and our territory. It’s an absolute gem.
“So it’s important that people yes, have a place to live and have a job when they’re up here but also they have things to do. And stay active and healthy and when there’s criticisms about investing in sport versus health care, sport is about health care. It’s about keeping people healthy. And so, so yeah, I think it extremely disappointed me. There were other options in the bid that I think could have been – and maybe they were investigated in depth. But all of us were surprised.”
It was mentioned that Yukon MP Brendan Hanley had said the federal and territorial governments were still talking and Hanley said he was surprised by the announcement.
“I just heard that this morning as well,” said Bilsky. “And I was a bit dismayed by that.
“I don’t know if they jumped the gun because we weren’t aware that – we thought that actually the decision was coming down in December, around Dec. 8. So yeah, I wasn’t aware of that. We’re not aware of the discussions that happened. But to hear Brendan saying that was a surprise … it made me think ‘gosh, I hope every stone was turned.’
Bilsky feels that the news will have long-term effects on athletics in the Yukon.
“I do you think that now the infrastructure will suffer. I know that leading up to 2007, there was solid justification for different funding pots to improve facilities and to train coaches and officials and I can’t imagine without a large event like that, the justification for being awarded that type of funding is not as strong.”
As for any hope of resurrecting the Games bid, Bilsky said “There were options to host these games without a new arena. But I will say it’s a difficult and exhausting project to take on without having a significant legacy.
“Being just a member of the bid committee, I’m not privy to whether the government will resurrect this. I have a suspicion they won’t. And they’ll just continue to move forward with other things and won’t feel it as sharply and as long as the sport community will. But it was an opportunity that – it’s hard to believe it’s gone. And there’s just so many things that will be lost because of it.”
Bilsky agreed that it’s a lot harder sell without the legacy aspect of the Games.
“Absolutely. 100 per cent. I think if the community sees what they will be able to benefit from, then definitely it’s an easier sell for people who aren’t really even into sport.
“As an example, I was really excited about the new arena and the sense that we were now going to be able to host larger concerts and events with that type of seating because we’ve been told no through the years because we don’t have enough numbers of fixed seats. For the Canada Games Centre, that falls short. The seating was reduced in that centre. So we can’t host large sport events, but we also can’t host music concerts that need a certain amount of people in seats.
“So that’s really disappointing, and I also know we’ve been working closely with the university. I know how excited they were to have student housing more suitable to actual single students. There’s a lot of family housing up there but but they were very excited about being able to offer their current – and new students that they would be able to recruit – student housing that was more suitable to those single students. That would have taken the pressure off of the rental market. That was just one more non-sport benefit. It’s hard to believe it’s all gone.”