As It Happens

Burned rock: Why curling fans are freaking out over a move by Canada

Curling fanatic Doug Suerich says Rachel Homan's decision to remove a burned rock during a match against Denmark, may not be such a big deal if she were a man.
Canada's skip Rachel Homan throws a stone during a women's curling match against Denmark at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, Friday, Feb. 16, 2018. (Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press)

Story transcript

The Canadian women's curling team is drawing fire at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang after a particularly bold move in a recent match. 

On Friday, the Canadian skip —  Rachel Homan — removed a burned rock after it was slightly touched by a Danish sweeper's broom. That's legal in the sport, but considered unusual — and against tradition —  in situations when the impact of the broom doesn't affect the ending position of the rock.

Doug Suerich says the backlash against Homan is a double standard. Suerich runs a curling blog called CurlingGeek, and curls himself in Waterloo, Ontario.

He spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off. Here is part of their conversation.

Members of team Canada have a quick chat between ends during round-robin curling action against Denmark at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Korea, Friday, February 16, 2018. From left to right are: Joanne Courtney, Rachel Homan, Lisa Weagle and Emma Miskew. (Jason Ransom/Canadian Press)

Doug, it seems the Canadian curling world is usually a pretty civil place, but they're up in arms about last night's game. Why is that?

Well the Olympic curling pressure is always going to bring out every little tick and foible in a game that's defined by its sportsmanship. You get someone going slightly outside of what's the generally accepted etiquette, and people are going to get up in arms very quickly.

Well what exactly happened? We're talking about a match between Canada and Denmark. The women's game. And what's the moment that has got everyone's dander up?

So Denmark was throwing a stone and they were sweeping it toward the house — standard curling protocol. And one of the Denmark's brushes, right toward the end of the motion, made contact with the stone which is classified as a burned rocked. Because there are no officials in curling that puts the pressure on Rachel Homan, that the non-offending team, to make a decision as to what should happen to that stone.

And Rachel Homan is ours, she's part of the Ottawa foursome that's the Canadian team, right?

That's right. She's the Canadian skip and she chose, and within her rights under the rules of the game, she chose to have the stone removed from play.

In a traditional sense, in a club curling sense, you'd rarely see that. One of the other options she had was just to leave the rock where it was or maybe tick it a little bit — you know a millimetre or two to the side to where she thought it would have landed had it not been touched by the Denmark brush

Alright now, you're the curling geek, so you can explain to us what this means. 

When players are sweeping a rock to influence how it travels down the ice, they're sweeping the ice, but not touching the stone itself. But certainly, it's not uncommon for an accident to happen and for a broom to touch a rock. If the broom touches the rock dramatically and knocks it to the side, it's fairly common for that rock to be pulled out of play.

Given all the pressure that's on her and given the standing right now of the Canadian team, do the critics take that into consideration?

No. Look, the critics like to criticize.

I'm a bit curious, you know because we've had some tough as nails male skips over the years who might have done the same thing. And I'm wondering how much of that is feeding into perceptions and stuff that, you know, a lot of male players might be able to get away with taking every single possible advantage under the rules and maybe the ladies aren't supposed to be able to do that.

Doug Suerich is a curling fanatic, and manages the curling blog CurlingGeek. (Doug Suerich/Facebook)

It's funny you should mention that because what we noticed online is that a lot of the criticism is really glaringly sexist. So do you think that if this was a male team that it would be treated differently in the world of curling?

Absolutely I think it would. Especially for particular skips that historically have had a reputation for win it all cost type things, I think people would sort of shrug their shoulders and say, "Well that's just so and so being so and so," and move on. I think there's absolutely a double standard.

So what happened at the end of this game, even after the rock was taken out?

Well, perhaps karma reared its head and Denmark won anyway in an extra end. It'll be interesting to see how the team handles this. They've got a pretty good head space. 

Hopefully they're hiding from social media right now and not reading the outburst and just focusing on throwing good stones. 

This has been edited for length and clarity. For more, listen to our interview with Doug Suerich.