People won’t need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend the Wood Buffalo 2023 Arctic Winter Games coming up in January in northern Alberta.

On Nov. 18, the Arctic Winter Games International Committee (AWGIC) said it revoked its policy on mandatory COVID-19 vaccines “to align with current public health advice,” according to the committee’s news release. 

At a news conference in Edmonton on Monday however, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith said she asked the Games to drop the vaccine requirement in response to the committee’s request for funding.

“The Arctic Winter Games wanted $1.2 million from us to support their effort and they were discriminating against the athletes, telling them they had to be vaccinated,” Smith said. 

“So we asked them if they would reconsider their vaccination policy in the light of new evidence and they did.”

Smith said in the Monday announcement that she was asking other Alberta organizations to drop their vaccination mandates. The Alberta premier previously made a promise to amend the Alberta Human Rights Act to prevent employers from refusing to employ Albertans who aren’t vaccinated against COVID-19, but has recently backed away from that. 

‘A team decision’

The Arctic Winter Games are scheduled to take place in the Wood Buffalo region from Jan. 29 to Feb. 4.

The event was scheduled for March 2022 but was postponed due to COVID-19. The Arctic Winter Games is held every two years and is an important circumpolar sports and cultural event for youth. Up to 2,000 people participate, with an equal number of volunteers, the organization said. 

This year’s Games will includes athletes from the Northwest Territories, Yukon, Nunavut, Alaska, Greenland, Nunavik, Northern Alberta and the Indigenous people (Sami) of Norway, Sweden and Finland.

The committee said it supports any jurisdiction that still wants to enforce its own requirements related to COVID-19.

“We would respect the autonomy of this as a team decision,” said committee president John Rodda in a statement.

The AWGIC said it is aware that COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses are still impacting the public, and asks people to stay vigilant to help stop the spread.

The committee said it is also “working closely with the Wood Buffalo 2023 Arctic Winter Games Host Society to encourage adoption of the recommended health measures at the time of these Games.”

Those measures include masking, hand sanitization and “other actions” to help mitigate the effects of these diseases.

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