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Monday, December 2, 2019

No! Not Another Sweeping Scandal - and Pay Equity in Curling.

Home for a Rest.

Team Fournier is taking a few well deserved weeks off after what was a pretty good curling season. I love curling, but it kinda feels nice to not be re-packing my bag – taking the clothes directly from the dryer and throwing them into my travel bag to take off for another spiel.

I mentioned last blog that the “weekend warrior” idea of curler is a vanishing species. Big spiels now seem to assume that you can start on Thursday morning – which means 2 days off or often even more. Plus less spiels means that you have to travel further to play. We used to be able to do a competitive season out of Montreal without getting on an airplane: Toronto, Ottawa, Gatineau,
Charlevoix used to be as far as we would need to travel. Now we need to add events in the Maritimes and out West to be competitive.

I honestly do not know how the big teams keep up the schedule they are doing. I guess not having a day job to run home to is helpful, but for the teams that have young families at home this must be crazy tough as well. Travel is tiring. I passed by Rachel Homan in the airport on her way to Pictou, traveling with a baby, a stroller and about 700 bags. I remember how stressful and tiring it was to travel when I had young kids – I cannot conceive doing it while trying to win curling tournaments.
I assume that the big teams have very supporting entourages of helpers and families to facilitate things – but still - wow.

Some thoughts on some issues:

Sweeping Controversy – edition #37,859.

In case you missed it, there was yet another sweeping controversy at the European Championship.

Team Norway were leading a game by a lot against England and decided to give their 5th man some ice time late in the game. He unfortunately used his own broom – instead of the broom of the player he replaced. This is against the rules, and Norway was given a LOSS, as that is the penalty for playing with an illegal broom.
Of course curling Twitter lost its collective mind, pointing their finger at an over-zealous official who applied the rules to the letter.
I have mixed feelings about this one. Of course I am a big believer in sportsmanship, and the spirit of curling, etc, but brooms are such a sensitive topic. After the years of acrimony we had over directional sweeping, the rules that have been put in place are there for a reason. The yellow heads wear out quickly; and by the end of a game are way less effective than they were in the early ends. Teams look for any edge they can legally get – some even manage their sweeping to save their broomheads until later ends. Bringing in a new sweeper with a new broomhead would be a big advantage. (I know this was not the case here – I am just pointing out why the rule exists). But Ullsrud should have known better, the rule exists for a good reason.

I think the problem is with the rule, not its application. The rule has to leave some wiggle room - some language that speaks to the intention or the relevance of the transgression.

Let me give you a hypothetical example to make it clear:  Brad Gushue and Mark Nichols go to the bathroom at the same time during the Brier final, and when they return, they accidentally pick up each other’s broom. Mark sweeps a few rocks with Brad’s broom, then notices, and tells the official. Technically, unless I am mistaken, the penalty for this transgression according to the rules should be loss of game. Ouch. No thinking person would ever apply that rule, but if an official applied the rule the way it is written – then the Brier final would end right there. 
How bad would that be? 

This rule needs to be re-written. The rule exists for a good reason – but needs to give some margin of application for context.

Pay Equity

Curling Canada announced this week that the winners of the Brier and the Scotties would make the same amount of money:  about $100K for the winners and $300K of total prize money.

This makes a lot of sense. 20 years ago, this would have been a harder case to make, as the Brier used to fill 20 thousand-seat venues while the Scotties was usually held in smaller towns. But then again 20 years ago the Brier winner didn’t even get prize money!

Today, more of the money comes from TV revenues and cresting – and the ratings and sponsorship for men’s and women’s events are similar. In addition – both the Brier and Scotties are held at smaller venues with similar attendance. You could still make a case that slightly higher attendance for the Brier should result in more $$$, but I think that the difference is relatively small and not worth the acrimony. Equal pay makes sense, and it is tough to argue that Rachel Homan / JJ / Einerson work any less hard than the men’s teams.

Equality is an especially big and symbolic step for a sport that was dragged kicking and screaming into the era of women’s equality in sport. My old curling club used to have a different membership price for Ladies and for Gentlemen curlers, with the Ladies being confined to curling within very specific times -and this was not that long ago. I guess it is the old golf club traditions that found their way into curling clubs – but women were almost always treated as inferior members. The sport had an inherent gender bias at every level.

While most curling clubs have at least entered the 21st century when it comes to membership equality, there are still many remnants of past days that need to be updated if the sport is to be inclusive and modern.

The Royal Montreal Curling Club still has this as its crest:

Notice the motto in the middle: “How social the game and how manly”. I think the club founders in 1807 were being ironic, and just fighting against the people making fun of them for sweeping in a kilt. But still – your club motto excludes women. Hey, I am a big fan of tradition (and the RMCC has a fair amount of it - being the oldest club in Canada), but it might be time to update that one. And @Baie d’Urfe CC - we won’t even mention the ridiculously sexist murals still displayed on the walls of your ice shed. 

I am confident that although most of the responses to this announcement will be positive, the same old tired arguments will be trotted out on Twitter and at the end of the bar at curling clubs. Here is the one I hear a lot: “If women want to be treated equally, then we should just let them play in the men’s events.” Yes, it is a fact that the best men’s teams would beat the best women’s teams, the same way it is true that Roger Federer would likely crush Serena Williams. But that is not the point. The point is what do people want to watch. Curling is a sport where watching a women’s game can be equally as entertaining as watching a men’s game. TV ratings seem to prove this point. 

Happy to see Curling Canada taking the lead on this, and the sport will get a lot of favorable press as a result. Now we have to see if it will filter down and have a positive impact on the number of women playing the sport, especially in my home province.