A few days before the opening ceremony of the 2016 Arctic Winter Games (AWG) in Nuuk, Greenland, weather reports looked bleak. A spring blizzard was on its way and expected to peak the day prior to the opening ceremony. That very Saturday, 1250 participants were set to fly to Greenland’s capital city – the highest number of civilians arriving in one day by aircraft in the island’s history. Now, however, bad weather was jeopardizing this milestone in Greenlandic aviation history and, along with that, the successful execution of the upcoming games.
Set against the backdrop of the blizzard, the planning and execution of the AWG 2016 – the biggest event of its kind in Greenland – exhibits what constitutes some of the necessary Arctic competences to maneuver in such unpredictable terrain. As an immediate response to the logistical emergency, a backup plan was set into effect, changing the traffic program and rescheduling the opening ceremony in order to ensure the smooth execution of the event. AirGreenland, the Arctic Commando of the Danish defense force, volunteers, and many other actors were brought in to respond to the situation, offering an interesting if nerve-wracking beginning to this year’s games.
The dramatic events preceding the AWG aptly display the challenges of operating in an Arctic environment, where planning may fall victim to the weather. Spinning this to their advantage, the organizers explained that the blizzard had provided them with an occasion to, in the words of general manager Maliina Abelsen, “do what we do best.” She continued by pointing out that “When weather conditions challenge us, we find solutions and solve it together.” As such, the AWG 2016 offers insights into how large events – and the big expenses which follow – might be used as occasions to demonstrate logistics and collaborative skills. Similarly, they offer the possibility to further engage with upskilling according to the situated needs of an Arctic community.
The AWG concept
Since its inauguration in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories in 1970, the Arctic Winter Games has been a culture and value-sustaining event. Its purpose is to strengthen intercultural exchange and pan-Arctic identity-building through sports characteristic to the region and its Indigenous populations. Since then, the biennial games have been hosted by a number of Arctic and Northern communities. This year’s games mark their 24th anniversary at which over 2200 athletes will be welcomed from nine Arctic ‘contingents.’
The games contain globally popular sports such as basketball, hockey, and alpine skiing, but also traditional, signature Inuit and Dene disciplines unique to the region. They include, among others, high kick, head pull, snowshoe biathlon, pole push, and finger pull. In addition, a comprehensive cultural program allows different contingents to showcase both traditional and modern Indigenous artwork, drama, and music.
Thus, the games are about more than simply sports and competition. The AWG logo reflects the three key purposes: sports, social exchange, and cultural celebration. The original values survive in the current AWG constitution and are reflected in the 2016 Games Guide. Here, the purposes of the games are described as pan-Arctic community-building and learning about and from each other’s cultural similarities and differences.1)AWG (2016). Games guide, 5, Nuuk, Greenland, can be accessed through www.awg2016.org
Upskilling through AWG
In an article in the Arctic Journal earlier this year, Asii Chemnitz Narup, the mayor of this year’s hosting municipality of Sermersooq, described how to her “the Arctic Winter Games are a strong and powerful statement of the strength and vitality of the Arctic nations and people. It carries with pride the weight of our history, our way of life, our cultures, our values, and yet in a 21st century set-up”.2)Narup, Asii Chemnitz (2016) The waiting is the hardest part. The Arctic Journal, 26 January 2016. The Arctic Journal went offline in June 2017.
An example of what a 21st century set-up might look like is the structure of this year’s host society, divided between the municipality of Sermersooq, the Greenland Government and the Greenlandic business community. While the focus of the games might still be on cultural exchange and sports, a public-private organizational set-up broadens the understanding of AWG 2016 as more than a sports event. Among other things, the organizers see AWG as an occasion for the community to engage with much needed upskilling of the workforce. According to the AWG strategy, one of its important aims is to “promote skills development in the general population.” As a way to achieve this, skills development is to be “rooted in project work, event coordination, language, service and not least the hosting role developed through active participation and courses”.3)Arctic Winter Games 2016. URL: www.awg2016.org, accessed 8 March 2016
As part of its program to attract and prepare 1750 volunteers to receive the many participants, organizers initiated an elaborate upskilling program for volunteers, local businesses, service industry workers and students. The program includes project work courses, service courses, first-aid courses, English courses and volunteer work courses in six different Greenlandic towns. By explicitly linking the upskilling initiatives as relevant to future mining and tourism development projects, the AWG upskilling approach has been responsive to the local needs and challenges in its focus on situated capacities. This contrasts and breaks with a dominant discourse on raising capacities through the attraction of outside (often Danish) capital and labour.
Showcasing the Arctic
While the AWG are an opportunity to engage in the celebration of pan-Arctic culture, the blizzard warning and the swift response to it by organizers display the massive organizational intricacies of handling an event such as the 2016 games for a community the size of Nuuk (17,000 inhabitants). By publicly announcing the measures taken to adapt to and make the best of the situation, organizers invited a global audience to experience a big-scale activation of Arctic competencies in working together, in being flexible and in rapidly adjusting to unexpected circumstances. The upskilling initiatives also show how organizers have used AWG 2016 as an opportunity to connect local capacities to local challenges in an elaborate upskilling scheme. In this light, this initiative expands beyond its explicit sports and cultural objectives.
As argued by mayor Asii Chemnitz Narup, the AWG 2016 is “one of many windows of opportunities we shall be aware of in the continuous work for attracting business, tourism and science and media attention. As a region, we can and must profit from that”.4)Narup, Asii Chemnitz (2016) The waiting is the hardest part. Arctic Journal, 26 January 2016. The Arctic Journal went offline in June 2017. This suggests that well-executed logistics and organization could provide benefits that exceed the sport event itself. It is an effective means to strengthen and demonstrate the skills, assets and capacities of the host society to participants, visitors, community and global media. Ultimately, it can add new life to our understanding of exceptional events – and everyday life – in the Arctic of the 21st century.
The authors are currently present in Nuuk as a part of their ongoing research project on value-creation and identity building through the AWG 2016.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||AWG (2016). Games guide, 5, Nuuk, Greenland, can be accessed through www.awg2016.org|
|2.||↑||Narup, Asii Chemnitz (2016) The waiting is the hardest part. The Arctic Journal, 26 January 2016. The Arctic Journal went offline in June 2017.|
|3.||↑||Arctic Winter Games 2016. URL: www.awg2016.org, accessed 8 March 2016|
|4.||↑||Narup, Asii Chemnitz (2016) The waiting is the hardest part. Arctic Journal, 26 January 2016. The Arctic Journal went offline in June 2017.|