Three different organizations and two rival broadcasters are planning to roll the dice and gamble on a curling event bubble, to be hosted in the pandemic-ravaged Canadian province of Alberta, in an attempt to salvage their 2020-21 season.
The announcement was made on Tuesday evening. Administrators of the world’s largest curling nation will run domestic men’s, women’s, mixed (doubles) and combined events – plus a world championship – at the WinSport Arena at Calgary Olympic Park.
The action will be played without fans but definitely in front of TV cameras. Dates for the events will be announced later as Curling Canada and other organizers work with local, provincial and national health authorities to set up the facility in the so-called bubble environment, but they are expected to start in February or March and eventually wrap-up in mid-to-late April.
“I can’t wait,” said Kirk Muyres, a five-time Brier (Canadian men’s championship) competitor, who plays third for Saskatchewan’s Team Matt Dunstone. “It’s been a tough time. We’ve played two events, and the rest were cancelled. We’ve practiced a ton. We’ve been home for eight or nine months. We’re ready to go.”
The national women’s championship, the Tournament of Hearts, typically launches the series of championships, followed by the Brier. Both championships would be televised by TSN.
It’s believed the Canadian Mixed Doubles Championship would come next. This is still a fairly new event on the nation’s calendar but it is critical. Beijing 2022 is roughly two years away and the second showcase of the newest Olympic curling discipline will see Canada as defending champions.
The World Curling Federation would then come to town, from April 3 to 11, to host the 2021 World Men’s Curling Championship – a key event where member nations hope to qualify their men’s four-player squads for Beijing. This event was confirmed in a Tuesday evening news release.
Canada and the WCF enjoy a history of partnering to host world championships, which would make this Canada-hosted affair another in a long line of well-organized shootouts.
Finally, action would reportedly conclude with the rival Grand Slam of Curling circuit, televised by rival broadcaster Sportsnet. Their announcement is expected within the next 48 hours, and could reveal two Slams to be played at Winsport in the month of April – the Players’ Championship and Champions Cup.
The dual men’s and women’s events would offer trophies and cash prizes and, most importantly, qualifying points toward Canada’s Olympic Trials qualifier that is scheduled for Saskatoon, Saskatchewan next year.
Muyres doesn’t believe any high-performance curlers would opt out of the scheme. Not the cream of the crop, that is.
“If it’s safe to do so, and we believe it would be safe, with heavy and effective protocols, most of the curlers would jump at this,” said Muyres. “I mean, our team is fortunate, as are most of the high-level teams. We already mix competitive curling with their careers, and the two are intertwined. So we can dedicate the time to this.
“And if you think about it, we’re already kind of living in isolation, on the road at these events,” Muyres added. “We show up, practice, compete for six or 11 days, just moving between the arena and our hotel and not really going anywhere else. And we do that for one or two months a year.
“No, I don’t think many of the guys and gals will hesitate to jump at this.”
Canada Olympic Park is a multi-use facility in the northwest area of the city, and boasts several nearby hotels, making it an ideal sports hub.
It’s believed organizers can exit the plan as late as mid-to-late January without any financial penalties, should COVID-19 prove to be too formidable an opponent.
Tonight’s announcement was originally scheduled for last week, but it’s believed a series of public relations disasters in Alberta prompted the delay.
As COVID-19 cases rage across the urban areas of the province, including Calgary, leaked audio recordings revealed a high level of political direction – and, at times, interference – in the Alberta government’s pandemic response.
Just days ago, social media was abuzz with reports that Alberta hospitals were rationing oxygen due to the rising level of demand.
As of this story posting, provincial governing bodies were meeting with their athletes to decide how to declare their representatives for the revised national championships.
“I think some (provinces) are going to have to appoint last year’s champions,” said Muyres. ”Nobody will like that, but some provinces just won’t be able to host events due to the pandemic. That’s what I fear, at any rate.”
Other national curling federations are expected to make announcements on their future events – if any – in the coming days and weeks.