Victoria bidding for 2020 North American Indigenous Games

Bid organizers cited the power of sport to heal and inspire, pointing to the last two weeks of Winter Olympics in South Korea, in announcing Victoria will bid for the 2020 North American Indigenous Games.

Victoria is up against Winnipeg, Ottawa and Halifax in the race to submit bids by the March 15 deadline. The site evaluation committee will visit in mid April. Presentations will be made to the NAIG Council in Montreal in early May with the decision to be announced later that month.

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The $10,000 cost of the bid is being funded by Tourism Victoria.

The federal government and province would each provide $3.5 million toward the $10 million cost of the Games, and the rest would be raised by the host committee.

Up to 5,000 athletes from the continent would compete.

Aboriginal sports legend Alex Nelson, who coached B.C. to the gold medal in U16-boys soccer at the 2017 Games held in Toronto, invoked the power of sport as witnessed among winter-sporting nations the past two weeks in Pyeongchang.

“Look at the Winter Olympics and what they did for Korea,” said Nelson. “The spirit of NAIG 2017 in Toronto was reconciliation. When two hearts come together we can see each other better and see others better.”

Nelson, who was involved in the 1994 Victoria Commonwealth Games and headed the organizing committee when NAIG 1997 was held in Victoria, said he has seen that spirit come through time and again in the Games.

“It’s like shaking hands with our hearts,” said Nelson, a builder inducted in the Victoria Sports Hall of Fame, who will be enshrined in the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame this year with the Class of 2018.

Nelson pointed to a number of Team B.C. athletes from NAIG 2017 Toronto, who were on hand for Monday’s announcement: “Look at how they carry themselves. It shows what sport can do. Sport allows you to show who you are and where you come from.”

Among the players on Nelson’s B.C. gold-medallist U-16 boys’ soccer team at the 2017 Games was his grandson Braden Nelson.

“I live my sport and it was an amazing experience that I will never forget being on Team B.C. at the Games,” said Braden Nelson.

“I can dream about doing this again and winning gold in the Summer Olympics.”

Nathan Sam, fifth with the B.C. team in the 2017 Toronto Games in U-16 lacrosse, said the experience also fired up his dreams: “It was a special experience, along a path I hope can lead to an NCAA athletic scholarship in field lacrosse and to the Victoria Shamrocks in box lacrosse.”

The 2020 Victoria Games bid is being headed by the Songhees Nation and will involve all nations on the South Island.

“It’s inspiring and it’s achievable,” said Songhees Chief Ron Sam. “We have a lot of work to do but we can do it.”

Sam estimated the economic impact of the 2017 Games, which included 4,800 athletes, on the Greater Toronto Area was $44 million. “[The Games] will not only be a defining showcase of athleticism and culture, they will be a significant economic generator for the entire region.”

Sam said he envisions using almost all existing facilities in Greater Victoria, including several arenas, soccer pitches and ball diamonds, Centennial Stadium and CARSA on the University of Victoria campus, the Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence on the Camosun Interurban campus, Saanich Commonwealth Place pool and Westhills Stadium in Langford.

The sports would include track and field, swimming, badminton, men’s baseball, women’s softball, basketball, box lacrosse, canoe/kayak, golf, rifle shooting, 3D archery, soccer, volleyball and wrestling. Sam said he will push to have rugby sevens added.

“Sport has played a significant role in my own life,” said Sam. “Experiencing self determination and human performance builds confidence and develops important life skills. Teamwork and the practice and rewards of discipline and dedication are transformational experiences for everyone, and particularly for our youth.”

This would be the third time for North American Indigenous Games on the Island, following Victoria in 1997 and the Cowichan Valley in 2008. The other hosts have been Edmonton in 1990, Prince Albert, Sask. in 1993, Blaine, Minnesota in 1995, Winnipeg in 2002, Denver, Colorado in 2006, Regina in 2014 and Toronto in 2017.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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