Saskatchewan·POINT-COUNTERPOINT

2 Saskatchewanians throw rocks over where curling should rank among wintertime sports

Of all the winter sports, curling seems to be the one that is most equally beloved and mocked. We asked two Saskatchewan residents to settle the debate.
Brad Gushue, pictured above at the 2018 world men's curling championship. (John Locher/The Associated Press)

Of all the winter sports, curling seems to be the one that is most equally beloved and mocked. We asked two Saskatchewan residents to settle the debate. Where do you stand?

Jillian "Pro-curling" Bell: It wasn't invented in Canada, but Canadians are among the best at it. If your hometown didn't have a curling rink, chances are someone found a slough or a dugout, or a garden hose and a patch of lawn, a few jam jars full of cement, and a broom. Maybe you started watching the game sitting on your grandmother's knee; maybe you only started watching because you heard about the Norwegian Men's outfits. It doesn't matter what brought you to curling, what matters is that it's the best winter sport. Curling is competitive, physically challenging and accessible, and you love it.

James "Curling is for Hair" Whittingham: I got introduced to curling on snowy Saturday afternoons in the eighties as a lonely young man waiting for Fashion File to come on. Trying to comprehend this strange game killed time nicely in the pre-Internet era. Occasionally I'd even get swept up in it and cheer out loud. But I'm afraid it's ultimately an elitist game played by soft-bodied white people performing in Neoprene pantsuits. A compelling athletic competition? It's comparable to me playing chess at grandma's house and having her scream at me to sweep the floor.

Ryan Fry, pictured curling for Canada at the 2014 Winter Olympics. (Laszlo Balogh/Reuters)

Point: Scandal-less

JB: There have been zero players banned from the sport for life for illegal betting (although there have been instances of players getting kicked out for being in their cups). You don't have hooligan fans or abusive hazing rituals. Nobody undertakes points shaving or game fixing. Of the two biggest doping scandals, one was overturned because the player was legitimately taking high blood pressure medication for — wait for it — high blood pressure. The biggest scandal to hit curling is that the new brooms were too good and might make players rely on advancements in technology over the strength of their technique.

Counterpoint: Not a true sport

JW: The reason why no one bets on curling is apathy. Royal baby genders and the colour of Gatorade at the Super Bowl garner more interest from Vegas than a bunch of couch potatoes sliding polished stones over a narrow sheet of ice. You don't see a lot of bingo players doping either. Why? It's not a sport. The only people who need to dope for strength and endurance are the fans watching it being played.

Point: Fashionable

JB: Other teams in other sports have matching jerseys and socks and helmets and gloves. How boring is that? The most conservative curling uniforms involve snappy jackets and perfectly respectable trousers, but the very best curling uniforms involve the kind of fabric that make you wonder whether it's possible to have flashbacks from fever dreams. Curling lets you express yourself.

Counterpoint: Desperate for attention

JW: It's a really compelling sport when you have to wear checkered slacks to get noticed. The day Nike makes a Serena Williams catsuit for curling is the day curling becomes worthy.

The Norwegian Men's team is know for its loud trousers. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Point: Entertaining* yelling

JB: At what other sporting event can you hear people, with perfectly straight faces, shouting "hurry hard" and "get on it"? What other sport can you watch — with your grandmother — and listen to people shouting that kind of stuff without it being weird? Curling has the best inter-player talk and it's fun to listen to no matter the language.

*Semi-erotic

Counterpoint: Cringe-worthy yelling

JW: "Honey, turn down the lights and put on some curling." TSN is the new Showtime when it comes to married couples' getting into the mood. I don't doubt people make love during curling but it's due to lack of interest in what's on the screen. It's not like these same viewers are going to turn off Stranger Things mid-episode and go at it. And I completely disagree with the embarrassment factor. When Rachel Homan is looking almost directly into the camera and yelling obscene things, I turn red in the face and lower the volume if the kids are in the next room. I wouldn't even be surprised if curling can't be broadcast in Utah before 10 o'clock at night.

Rachel Homan was the skip of the Canadian women's curling team at the 2018 Winter Olympics. (Aaron Favila/Associated Press/File)

Point: Accessible for all

JB: Even though there's a crap-ton of physics involved in every shot, and the strategy for play is anything but simple, kids as young as two can shove a rock down the ice and grandparents play well into their nineties. Curling is an accessible sport for people of all ages and all abilities. It doesn't matter if you're fast; you don't have to be super strong. Ladies and gents play on the same teams. You don't have to take out a second mortgage to afford all of the equipment and accoutrements. And while it's not unheard of to take a bad tumble on the ice, injuries in curling are rare.

Counterpoint: Hidden costs

JW: Yes, curling is an easy pastime. So is shuffleboard and bird-watching. But is it actually affordable? How much do checkered pants really cost? Seems like a custom order from a pricey fashion designer. Maybe I'll hire one of the five curling ice-makers in the world to make a rink in my backyard. Hopefully my banker will remortgage my home so I can buy the $4,000 set of curling stones required. It's one of the cheapest sports out there, second only to Formula One and space polo.

Canada's Kaitlyn Lawes, left, and John Morris curled into history with their gold-medal victory in mixed doubles at the 2018 Winter Olympics. (Wang Zhao/AFP/Getty Images)

Counter-proposal

JW: I propose the game is changed to include giant elastics at the end of the ice sheet. This would resemble a favourite game from my childhood, Rebound. In it, you push weighty little discs down a narrow board to rebound off of elastics back at you. I submit that ice sheets with giant tensioned elastics on the end would immediately make curling the most popular sport in the world. Yes, there would be injuries as unpredictable 40-pound balls of granite, once destined for countertops, upend players like hapless bowling pins. But helmets and pads could be required to reduce the frequent hospitalization of athletes. Fighting would likely break out in many games. Let the Scots wear their fashionable kilts and politely push rocks around the ice. Curling Night in Canada, complete with blood and penalty boxes, could be the next truly Canadian thing.

JB: I second the motion for Rebound Curling! This is the best idea yet.

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