It’s been five years since “Broomgate” rocked the curling world, and virtually five years to the day since Stephen Colbert delivered a six-minute segment on the roar surrounding the Roaring Game.
The chaos centered around the technologies of curling brushes – fabrics, initially, then brush-head inserts – and the ability of high-performance curling athletes to sweep the stone – “directional sweeping” – in ways that challenged the laws of physics. One brush manufacturer was blamed for unleashing an out-of-control beast, and one team – Brad Gushue’s eventual two-time world champion squad from Canada – sleuthed the discovery and exposed the facts. The resulting explosion caused a stream of accusations, agreements, broken agreements… even some near-fisticuffs.
Another team, skipped by four-time world champion Glenn Howard, also conducted on-ice experiments. They then convened a player’s meeting at a World Curling Tour event, and issued this statement:
“We attended a meeting on Saturday which was in the middle of an event. We listened while every single curler agreed that the new directional material needs to be removed from our sport. We all agreed that this is not what we want for our sport. We are not here to negotiate on this subject. The stakes are high and the curling world is watching all of us.
“Shame on all of us for letting this get to where we are now. Shame on anyone who understands the issue and the technology and does not want to be compliant moving forward.”
At the time, there were no rules concerning what goes into the creation of a curling brush. Curling authorities were caught flat-footed as both the high-performance and recreational curling worlds – the latter dominates, as some 90% of global curlers play for fun and fitness – erupted in controversy.
Our November issue cover story headline told the tale: “Magic” brush fabric revealed: Curling world goes bonkers.
Each of our six issues in that 2015-16 season contained at least one follow-up story. Twice the news reappeared on our cover – the March 2016 issue declaring that Brushing madness sweeps curling – again and the preceding February issue, which provided a detailed cheat sheet for improper sweeping style.
Competitor Lori Eddy, who is one half of the 2 Girls and a Game podcast elsewhere on this platform, wrote a powerful guest column in the December issue:
“Since the summer there were rumblings and rumours swirling about brooms, broom heads and sweeping techniques. I was skeptical at first. I played in several events last season and honestly did not observe anything suspicious. I thought this was merely a way for some teams to justify why they weren’t winning anymore. Call me naive, but I believed everyone was playing on an equal playing field. I believed that talent, dedication and commitment were the keys to success. I did not think clever sweeping tactics and equipment would ever erase an imperfect throw.
“The stories of fighting, yelling, tears, people not shaking hands and calling each other cheaters are ruining the reputation of our sport. And here’s my next concern. If nothing changes with the rules there's going to be a ’If you can’t beat ’em...’ attitude. Our game’s integrity is on the line.”
Many believe, to this day, that if the World Curling Federation had failed to tackle the issue head on – they eventually banned the offending fabrics from sanctioned competition, and convened both a manufacturer’s summit and an investigative research summit – the sport’s Olympic status might have been at risk of termination.
Today, there is one standard fabric produced by all manufacturers for all brushes in sanctioned championship events. Sweeping devices are surrendered at the start of major competitions and either approved or rejected by event officials. Some seizures are red-flagged – literally placed in evidence bags – for further examination.
Five years ago, such sights were impossible to comprehend. Now they’re just part of the game.
One wonders today: What swayed Colbert to embark on such an odyssey of curling jokes? Was it the barrage of media attention the scandal generated at the time, including the New York Times? Are Canadians embedded in the Late Show writer’s room?
Regardless, let’s remember Broomageddon as Colbert saw it back on Nov. 21, 2015... with obvious amusement, a hastily-constructed electric stone prop, and a pile of cringeworthy curling wordplay.