A qualifying round for provincial curling teams that have not performed well in the Brier in recent years is making it more difficult to generate interest in the sport, says a prominent P.E.I. curler.
'This is not a participation event. This is an elite level event.' - Al Cameron, Canadian Curling Association
Adam Casey’s Summerside-based rink is ranked 10th in the country. He still needs to win a provincial tournament for a shot at the Brier, but in previous years winning provincially would have meant advancing to Brier play automatically.
This year the P.E.I. team will have to play in a qualifying tournament against Nova Scotia and the Yukon, also poor performers in recent Briers, and Nunavut, which is shooting for the Brier for the first time.
Casey told CBC the new qualifying round is a polarizing concept, with smaller jurisdictions losing out.
"I haven't spoken to many players that have been for it yet,” said Casey.
“I know a lot of people from the Maritimes and sort of the small places really kind of take it like almost ruining the Brier, and it's making it tough to grow interest in the sport.”
Casey hopes teams see this as a stepping stone to strive for, rather than a reason to give up.
The Canadian Curling Association says it had to make the change after adding Team Canada and Nunavut to the competition. The association and broadcaster TSN wanted to keep the competition to a 12-team round robin, and the qualifier was the way to do it.
CCA director of communications Al Cameron doesn't agree the change hurts smaller provinces and territories.
"Nova Scotia won the Tim Horton's Brier as recently as 2003,” said Cameron.
“This is not a participation event. This is an elite level event that leads to a world championship.”
The qualifying round will be held immediately before the Brier itself, which starts Feb. 28 in Calgary. PEI's men's provincial championship is in Alberton February 6-10.