Whistler may hold its final edition of Ironman Canada in July.
The City of Penticton council voted at its meeting on May 7 to allow staff to pursue an agreement with Ironman and bring the race back to the Okanagan with a five-year deal beginning in 2020.
It is unclear at this moment what Whistler's future with the event is, given that Ironman, the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) and Tourism Whistler (TW) signed a contract extension in 2017 to keep the race in the resort until 2020, meaning a new deal with Penticton would encroach on that agreement.
"The current contract to host the Subaru IRONMAN Canada and Subaru IRONMAN 70.3 Canada triathlons in Whistler spans 2018-2020," an RMOW spokesperson wrote in an email on May 3, the date the City of Penticton revealed its triathlon strategy. "Details beyond 2020 have not been confirmed, and discussions are underway."
Added a Tourism Whistler spokesperson via email on May 6: "Whistler's current contract with IRONMAN spans through to 2020. What happens after that has not yet been confirmed."
The RMOW did not share the contract with Pique at the time of renewal in 2017.
In a follow-up email, a different spokesperson said the RMOW is unable to comment on third-party contracts. However, in a phone call after Pique's print deadline on Wednesday afternoon, Mayor Jack Crompton confirmed that Ironman would face no penalties if it ended the contract early, but had little else to update on the race's status.
"Obviously, we're aware of the City of Penticton's decision to enter hosting an event with Ironman. It's something that we are considering internally at the moment," he said.
On May 3, the City of Penticton released its committee of the whole agenda with a presentation from Dave Christen, Ironman's regional director for the Northwestern U.S. and Western Canada, and a council agenda with a presentation on its triathlon strategy from director of recreation and facilities Bregje Kozak.
The presentation included staff recommendations to try to bring the race back to the city where it ran from 1983 to 2012.
"City staff have been in discussions with IRONMAN over the past few months regarding the potential return of the full distance race to Penticton in 2020," Kozak wrote in her report to council.
"Previously bound by a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA), City staff were tight lipped about their meetings with IRONMAN and were unable to provide information or updates to residents or the media until now.
"Staff proceeded with their due diligence including two face-to-face meetings with an IRONMAN representative in Penticton, and explored the total cash and in-kind commitments that would be required to bring IRONMAN back to Penticton."
Ironman Canada race director Christine Cogger referred comment to Christen, who did not respond to phone calls or emails.
Christen's only mention of the Whistler race was to highlight the $8.8 million in visitor spending during the 2017 event. He did not comment on the race's future in his presentation to council during the committee of the whole meeting, nor did Penticton council ask him about ending the relationship with Whistler before the contract was up.
Later in the day, Penticton council voted unanimously to continue to negotiate a five-year contract with Ironman.
"We need to bring this event back to the community," Penticton Mayor John Vassilaki said. He called the outlay required of taxpayers, more than $400,000, "smart money."
A large crowd packed into council chambers broke into applause and cheers when the unanimous vote passed.
According to Christen's projections, bringing Ironman Canada back to Penticton would draw 2,500 athletes and 10,000 total visitors.
Councillor Judy Sentes and Vassilaki were both on council when Penticton changed course from Ironman and opted to pursue agreements with other race hosts in 2012. However, since then, Ironman has grown while the other races in Penticton fizzled in comparison.
"At that time it was the right thing to do in the circumstances," Vassilaki said. "But you know, times change and we have to change with the times.";
During Ironman's run in Whistler, the RMOW has contributed between $250,000 and $282,000 annually in Resort Municipality Initiative funding.
-with files from Castanet