The 46th running of Alaska’s famed Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race kicks off Saturday amid the most turbulent year ever for the annual long-distance contest that spans mountain ranges, the frozen Yukon River and dangerous sea ice along the Bering Sea coast.
Among the multiple problems: a champion’s dog doping scandal, the loss of major sponsor Wells Fargo, discontent among mushers and escalating pressure from animal rights activists, who say the dogs are run to death or left with serious injuries.
The Iditarod has had its ups and downs over the decades, but the current storm of troubles is raising questions about the future of the 1,000-mile (1,600-kilometer) race that for many symbolises the contest between mortals and Alaska’s unforgiving nature, says an AP report.
Leo Rasmussen, one of the race’s founders, predicted the Iditarod is heading for extinction within the next few years, given an ‘extreme lack of organisation’ from its leadership.
“You can only burn so many stumps, you know, and you’re done,” he says.
Iditarod CEO Stan Hooley acknowledged that organisers have weathered a dark time but disagreed the race faces an uncertain future.
“There’s always going to be an Iditarod,” he said. “I consider this more of a growing process than anything else.”
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