Alaska dog mushers forego next Arctic Winter Games citing lack of 'true competition'

The future of dog mushing at the Arctic Winter Games is in doubt again, as Team Alaska considers forgoing the sport at next year's games.

Shawn Maltby, the team's chef de mission, said the dog mushing races at the 2018 AWG were a bit of a disappointment, because only two teams participated — Alaska and the N.W.T.

"We didn't feel it was a true competition, with two contingents. You know, everybody got an ulu [medal] which is great for the athletes, but it's not a true competition in our opinion," Maltby said. 

The Arctic Winter Games are an international celebration of northern sport and culture held every two years.

Two weeks ago, Team Alaska officials voted against sending dog mushers to the 2020 games in Whitehorse, next March. Maltby said it wasn't clear whether there would be any more teams than last time taking part.

Since then, he's learned there would be mushers from Yukon and Nunavut, as well as the N.W.T., so Team Alaska is "re-evaluating" and would make a decision within 30 days.

Philippe Morin/CBC

Maltby says the team evaluates each sport before each set of games, to decided whether to participate. He says there haven't been any Alaskan badminton or table tennis players at recent games, but there may be in 2020, "because the interest is back." 

Event still on for 2020, says AWG

After last year's games in the N.W.T., the Arctic Winter Games international committee said it would review whether to drop dog mushing entirely from the games, because of dwindling interest.

But Doris Landry, AWG operations coordinator, said it's still on for 2020.

"As it stands today, there will be dog mushing at the Arctic Winter Games in Whitehorse, yes," Landry said.

Philippe Morin/CBC

The AWG's sport policy states that competitions with fewer than four participating regions should be cut, if such low participation is sustained for two AWG events.

In 2016, when Greenland hosted the games, no mushing races were held for technical reasons. In 2014, when the games were in Alaska, dog mushers from N.W.T., Yukon, Nunavut and Alaska all competed. 

Maltby said the mushers in Alaska know that they might not be represented in Whitehorse next year, and "they're bummed."

"But at the end of the day, we still have to look at the sport itself within the Arctic Winter Games," he said.

"It's not about whether or not we want to bring a team or not — we always want to bring a team. It's about having a true competition."