It’s a decision that sits close to the heart of curling.
As curling edges closer to its “Hub City” event concept – the Canadian women’s (Scotties), men’s (Brier), and mixed doubles, plus the men’s worlds and two Grand Slam events all hosted in a Calgary bubble – the sport is already groaning under the weight of multiple pandemic stressors.
One that will no doubt rankle traditionalists is sure to start brewing among the Roaring Game’s notoriously fickle fanbase.
The Curling News can reveal that a decision on whether or not the Scotties, Brier and mixed doubles teams will wear the famed competition heart on their uniforms has not yet been made, and is pending.
“It’s on our radar for sure,” said Danny Lamoureux, Director of Club Development and Event Operations for Curling Canada. “We’ll be making the decision soon.”
The heart crest was founded by inaugural Brier sponsor Macdonald Tobacco, whose “Brier” tobacco tins were braced with a silver heart-shaped plug. The colour purple played a role in the branding and eventually became the primary colour of the Brier’s competition crest, which is given to each team member upon winning his provincial or territorial championship.
And there’s the rub. Is the heart emblematic of winning your provincial championship, or of competing in the national championship, regardless of how qualification was achieved?
Throughout this season of COVID-19, some provinces and territories managed to host championships, making their winners clear-cut representatives for the bubble.
Most member associations, however, were forced to cancel their championships and have appointed their reps for the Brier, Scotties and mixed doubles. In most cases, last year’s champions were awarded the berths.
Lamoureux has been searching archives and cannot find any policies that specifically prevent a member association from declaring their representative to a national without first hosting a championship. In other words, at this point, the traditionalist view that each heart must be earned in on-ice competition might not be backed up in writing.
“So far we can’t really find any policies to the contrary,” said Lamoureux. “We know the heart is emblematic of being a provincial and territorial champion, but as for specifics …
“I’m sure there is a policy somewhere, but it’s not digital. The original is probably in the document warehouse and we can’t get in there because of COVID.”
Other Canadian competitions soon followed the Brier’s heart theme, with the women’s competitors wearing a red heart crest (defending champs wear blue hearts), the four-player mixed athletes wearing grey heart crests, juniors wearing blue hearts, seniors wearing gold/yellow hearts, and so on.
“We did a bit of a camouflage look for the U18 heart,” said Lamoureux. “The kids really like it.”
When asked if Curling Canada might consider a special 2021 “COVID”-coloured crest for this once-in-a-lifetime season, Lamoureux demurred.
“I think we’ve used up all the colours,” he said. “The only colour left is black, and we’re loathe to go there.”
The controversy is sure to inflame some components of the fan base, which has already been inflamed by past heart melees.
When Labatt took over Brier title sponsorship in 1980, provincial champions were given a new, oval crest for a new era. The regional Ontario Curling Report newspaper raised a furor by publishing a cover story which openly lobbied for the return of the traditional heart-shaped crest.
Following a week of player complaints at the Brier itself, Labatt representatives announced during the closing banquet that the heart crest would return in 1981–and be retroactively given to the 1980 competitors, too.
One wonders if Curling Canada might feel the solution must be an all-or-nothing proposition; everyone wears a heart of some kind, or not at all.
“I mean, how’s it going to look if some players have hearts and others don’t?” Lamoureux said.
Well... your faithful writer points to an already existing precedent. Specifically the Wild Card teams, which have all competed in the last few Briers and Scotties without a heart on their jackets.
It’s worth noting that recent technological advances already prevent curlers from wearing their heart crests … “crests” being the operative word.
Crests used to be sewn onto competition sweaters and, later, nylon jackets. Modern athlete jackets and jerseys are now manufactured via dye-sublimation process, where detailed colour logos are printed directly onto today’s fabrics. As such, the purple, red and other coloured hearts are stamped right onto the uniform.
Traditional crests are still given to the provincial and territorial winners–there’s that word “winners” again–but they’re no longer worn in competition. Rather, they’re kept with medals and trophies, far away from the ice.