Minister hears how N.W.T. can level the playing field for athletes in small communities
Athletes in smaller Northwest Territories communities face various barriers when it comes to competing at higher levels territorially, and nationally.
Shane Thompson, the territory's minister overseeing sport, Derek Squirrel, director of recreation in Ulukhaktok, and Aaron Wells, the executive director of the Aboriginal Sport Circle NWT, discussed the challenges faced by young athletes in smaller communities, and what could be done to help level the playing field, during a live phone-in show on CBC North's The Trailbreaker Friday.
Thompson — who was a coach himself in Kugluktuk, Nunavut, and Fort Simpson, N.W.T. — recognized the need to "build capacity" in smaller communities, and give athletes more opportunities to travel.
He said he's asked the Arctic Winter Games international committee whether the games could take place every three years, instead of every two, to give athletes more time to prepare.
To Wells and Squirrel, building capacity in smaller communities also means developing resident coaches.
Communities often depend on transient teachers, nurses and RCMP to take on coaching, said Squirrel. In the Beaufort Delta, they've been working to train local coaches.
Flying teams to competitions costs thousands of dollars
Squirrel stressed how expensive it is to fly young people out of their communities for competitions.
"Ulukhaktok, Paulatuk — to get out of these communities is thousands and thousands of dollars," to say nothing of the cost of food and accommodation, he said.
Squirrel said flying a soccer or basketball team to Yellowknife can cost upwards of $10,000.
"A lot of the communities are low-income communities, so you don't get a whole lot of fundraising dollars."
Squirrel said he'd like to see more territorial sports organizations bring their expertise to communities, and run training clinics for young people at home.
Wells spoke to the importance of having available gyms and rinks.
Those facilities, he said, are often used for events like feasts and court, meaning young people can't always use them to train.
"Communities need to work better together to give access to youth and programs to get into these gymnasiums or these rinks whenever youth want to get in there," he said.
Squirrel said some sports facilities are in dire need of renovations, but those upgrades get kicked down the priority list when things like roads and sewer infrastructure need repairs.
Thompson said the territory used to be responsible for building sports infrastructure in communities, but more recently, that responsibility has fallen to the communities.
"When it comes to facilities in the municipalities, it's driven by the communities. It's their capital plan, they have to make choices," he said.
"These are valid concerns and there's competing needs out there, so we work with communities as best we can."