The time has come for organizers of the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) to put their years of hard work into action. The 2014 NAIG will begin July 20 and continue until July 27 in the Saskatchewan city of Regina.
About 3,600 Native athletes from across North America will compete in the games. An additional 1,000 coaches, managers and chaperones will also be involved with the multi-sport competition.
A total of 15 sports will be contested. Athletes will be representing 21 teams (regions), 13 from Canada and eight from the United States.
"We've been preparing for this for a few years now," Ron Crowe, the chief executive officer of the NAIG host society told ICTMN. "We're now at the point of execution. We're pretty excited that in a few days we're going to have a large number of people coming to Regina for these games."
Regina was awarded these games back in 2011. At the time, there had been some talk the city might even step up to host the 2011 NAIG, which had originally been awarded to Milwaukee.
When officials from that Wisconsin city announced they were withdrawing their hosting rights in 2010, NAIG officials scrambled to see if they could find an alternative site. But it was decided the best option would be to cancel the games that year and allow another city to properly prepare to host the next NAIG.
As a result, it has now been six years since the last games were staged. British Columbia's Cowichan Valley hosted the 2008 NAIG. Crowe said there is a sense of excitement in Regina as this year's NAIG is approaching.
"We've had a feverish buzz in Regina for the last couple of weeks," he said. "Last weekend we realized this is going to happen in a few days."
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As of earlier this week, one of the few remaining details to attend to was putting up signage at the Games' 20 venues across the city. The sports that will be featured at the Games are archery, athletics (track and field), badminton, baseball, basketball, canoeing, golf, kayaking, lacrosse, rifle shooting, soccer, softball, volleyball and wrestling.
Though organizers had announced last month that the swimming competition would be cancelled, there has since been a change of thought. The sport was originally cancelled as there would not be enough certified swim officials to support the event. Crowe said since a number of volunteers have since stepped up, swimming will indeed be contested at the games. But since these volunteer swim officials are not certified, it will be considered an unsanctioned event.
Like the other sports, swimmers will still win NAIG medals, but their results will not be recognized by swimming federations in Canada or the U.S.
Organizers were also forced to drop boxing from its schedule as there was not sufficient interest from participants. Also, kayaking, which had been a demonstration sport at the 2008 NAIG, is now a full medal sport.
Crowe anticipates the host team will have its share of success in Regina.
"Team Saskatchewan has won six out of the seven previous North American Indigenous Games," he said. "I'm sure they'll have a full contingent, and they'll be competitive. But it's not a walk in the park for them."
Participating clubs can have a maximum of 500 athletes at the games. Saskatchewan will be represented by the maximum amount of entrants allowed.
The NAIG were first held in 1990 in Edmonton. Since then, the games have been staged in four other Canadian and two American sites.