2020 Huntsman World Senior Games canceled due to COVID-19 concerns

ST. GEORGE — The Huntsman World Senior Games announced Friday in a live press conference broadcast on Youtube that the 2020 games would be canceled amid global and local concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

Huntsman World Senior Games opening ceremony, St. George, Utah, Oct. 8, 2019 | Photo by Ryne Williams, St. George News / Cedar City News

Kyle Case, CEO of the games, told St. George News that senior games leadership and organizers had set Friday’s date as the day to make the announcement and held the conference via electronic means in order to let their global audience participate.

“We decided a long time ago that July 31 was going to be our day to make the announcement,” Case said.

After analyzing all the logistics of putting on the event that hosts thousands of athletes from all over the world every October, Case said they made the difficult decision to forgo the 2020 games.

A video containing the announcement as well as an inspirational message to athletes, volunteers and the community can be viewed here.

Case said the ultimate decision came down to two main factors. One, the safety of participants, staff, volunteers and the community, and two, the many logistics involved in putting on an event the magnitude of the senior games in the midst of a global pandemic.

The Huntsman World Senior Games began in 1987 with approximately 200 athletes. What began as a vision to hold an international sporting competition for athletes age 55 or older by Daisy Morgan and John H. Morgan Jr. has grown into a global event that hosts nearly as many athletes in October each year as the Olympic Games do.

In a previous St. George News article, Case said the 2019 games featured 33 different sports and competitions and hosted 11,179 athletes.

Participants in the Huntsman World Senior Games, date and location not specified | Photo courtesy of the Huntsman World Senior Games, St. George News

“As a point of reference, there were 11,200 athletes that competed in the last Olympics. As we’ve tracked that growth progress, it’s been pretty consistent and steady. It’s been exciting to see that happen,” Case said in the report.

Chief among the safety concerns, Case said, was that athletes participating in the games are among the most at-risk when it comes to serious complications and even death from COVID-19. Case added that their largest volunteer base also falls into the at-risk age group.

The nonprofit group relies heavily on a volunteer team of nearly 2,500 people each year. Not only did they want to keep their volunteers safe, but from a logistical side, they thought it might be difficult to recruit volunteers if their health might be compromised.

As a longtime partner in the community, Case said they didn’t want to do anything that could potentially jeopardize the health of community members or overtax the hospital by inviting thousands of global athletes to the area.

Additionally, with over 30 planned sports, Case said it would be nearly impossible to implement proper safety and hygiene protocols across all events.

“It just felt like a difficult way forward,” he said.

Case added that many of their partner venues shared the same concerns of senior games leadership and had gracefully bowed out of hosting sports in their venues.

At the end of the entire evaluation, Case said there were just too many obstacles to overcome to hold the event this year.

Participants in the 2018 Huntsman World Senior Games in Southern Utah, Oct. 11, 2018 | Photo courtesy of Huntsman World Senior Games, St. George News

The decision will potentially have a big impact on the community, particularly where businesses who rely on the thousands of guests the event brings each October – the 2019 games created a record-high $16 million in direct economic impact to Washington County – are concerned.

“We recognize the significant impact that not having the games is going to have,” Case said. “But, big picture, we just felt like this was the only way that we could, that we could move forward.”

Lil Barron, director of sponsor relations, echoed Case and said that though the decision was difficult for everyone involved, she believes it is absolutely the right decision to keep the community, athletes, volunteers and staff safe and healthy.

Following Friday’s live announcement, Case said there were a number of questions and concerns from athletes, particularly those who had already registered to participate in the games.

“One of the main questions that we are hearing, especially from athletes, is ‘Now what?” Case said.

Over 6,000 athletes were already registered for the games, he said, and many were concerned about registration fees and what options they might have.

Case said pre-registered athletes will be given one of three choices:

  1. Give the registration fee as a tax-deductible donation to the nonprofit Huntsman World Senior Games.
  2. Receive a full refund.
  3. Receive a coupon to register for the 2021 games.

Information about registration fees can be found on the Huntsman World Senior Games website.

While the games will not go on this year, organizers plan to continue engaging with their athletes and community partners through various programs that will highlight inspiring athletes, musicians and global community influencers over the age of 50, Case said.

As they turn their eyes toward 2021, Case said that though it seems a long way off, they plan to start right away preparing to make their return to the games bigger and better than ever.

“The game isn’t over,” Case said quoting the hashtag for Friday’s announcement, “it’s just a time out.”

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