Road To The Olympic Games

Curling·Analysis

Why Calgary was chosen as curling hub despite being a COVID-19 hotspot

For as much excitement as there is around Curling Canada making it official that Calgary will be the curling hub city, there are many who are massively skeptical about why it’s being held in what is now the COVID hotspot in the country. 

Optics are bad as province spirals into pandemic emergency

Manitoba curler Kerri Einarson is seen above at the 2020 Scotties Tournament of Hearts. Many wonder why the defending Scotties champ, as well as Brier winner Brad Gushue, aren't simply advanced to the world championships as opposed to playing out the season in a Calgary hub amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press. )

After weeks, maybe even months, of waiting and wondering what the curling season might look like in 2021, there is finally some clarity.

But for as much excitement as there is around Curling Canada making it official that Calgary will be the curling hub city, there are many who are massively skeptical about why it's being held in what is now the COVID hotspot in the country. 

CBC News broke the story — just 24 hours after the hub city announcement — that Alberta is calling on the federal government and Red Cross for help that includes field hospitals in Calgary and Edmonton to treat hundreds of patients. 

The optics of planning curling events in a province spiralling deep into a pandemic emergency are bad. And while many of the curlers are excited about the potential of playing in these events, there are others who are asking themselves if this all really worth it.

WATCH | CBC Sports' Devin Heroux, Colleen Jones discuss Calgary curling hub:

Breaking down the Calgary curling bubble

Sports

4 months ago
5:34
Devin Heroux is joined by six-time Scotties medallist Colleen Jones to discuss the announcement of the Calgary curling bubble. 5:34

It raises the question, why Calgary? 

In an email to CBC Sports, Curling Canada's communications director Al Cameron said there were a few cities in consideration for the curling bubble, but that it's their policy not to name other cities. 

"Calgary has an international hub airport, great host facility with international size ice surface [a big deal for spacing on ice for players and the on-ice camera people], no potential junior hockey tenants to kick out and modern ice plant, and proximity to host hotels was very good, and the city and province put together a good bid," Cameron wrote in the email. 

Curling Canada officials won't really get into details, but perhaps the most important thing to note when it comes to where this curling bubble was going to be held is that it needed the approval of all levels of government. 

Alberta's government was ready to jump at the opportunity. So too was Calgary's city council, while the federal government is still in conversation with Curling Canada about some of the restrictions and protocols. 

"This series of championship curling events is a fantastic opportunity for Alberta to once again show the world that our ability to host major hub-city sporting events is second to none," Alberta's Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women, Leela Sharon Aheer, said.

WATCH | Gushue disappointed by cancellation of curling world championship:

Brad Gushue on cancellation of curling world championships

Sports

1 year ago
1:34
In an Instagram Live with our curling aficionado Devin Heroux, Brier 2020 champion Brad Gushue said he was 'disappointed but not surprised' about the cancellation of the curling world championships. 1:34

In fairness to Curling Canada, they have agonized over this entire process, spending countless hours to come up with the safest environment imaginable for these events. And let's not forget, this is a national sport organization with relatively limited resources as opposed to the big bucks of the NHL and NBA that can spend millions to make their bubbles happen.

So while Calgary prepares to host the Scotties, Brier, mixed doubles nationals, men's world championship, as well as two Grand Slam events, in the background provincial and territorial curling associations are scrambling to come up with ways to qualify representatives for the events. 

To that end, Northern Ontario late Thursday night made the decision to forego any playdowns and have handpicked Brad Jacobs and Krista McCarville as their representatives. This comes just days after Saskatchewan cancelled the venue for its provincials which were supposed to take place in an arena in Estevan in late January. 

Sources close to a number of provincial associations say many of the provinces and territories have come up with two or three scenarios to determine their representatives: smaller fields, two-team playdowns and handpicking reps are all common scenarios. 

Is it all worth it?

The key reason why Curling Canada is holding all of these events, aside from keeping sponsors happy, is to get teams in line for the world championships. Remember, Canada has not yet qualified for the Beijing Olympics and will need top-six finishes to do so at the upcoming worlds. 

On Thursday, USA Curling said it would not be holding nationals before any of the world championships and instead just picked its women's, men's and mixed doubles representatives — that includes 2018 Olympic champion John Shuster.

Could Curling Canada not just have sent Scotties winner Kerri Einarson and Brier winner Brad Gushue to this year's world championships? Neither were able to go last spring because of the pandemic — and many people would not be all that upset to see these two teams wearing the Maple Leaf. 

Finally, we're getting more details about the restrictions of life in the bubble, including what life will be like for competitors with young children, especially new mothers who are nursing. 

Curling Canada is not allowing any family members inside the bubble and each curler will get their own room. However, nursing-mother competitors will be allowed to bring their baby and a care-giver into the green zone with them.  

It's becoming clear very quickly that there are many curlers across Canada who are going to be forced to make difficult personal decisions about whether or not they want to spend multiple weeks away from their families, not to mention take time off work, to play in events in the COVID hotspot of Canada.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Devin Heroux

CBC reporter

Devin Heroux reports for CBC News and Sports. He is now based in Toronto, after working first for the CBC in Calgary and Saskatoon.

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