The provincial governing body for the sport of curling has made the difficult decision to cancel the Scotties, Viterra and Dynasty championships in women’s, men’s and mixed doubles for 2021.
Curl Manitoba Executive Director Craig Baker said it was not a fun decision to pull the pin on the three provincial finals.
“It’s something that has been heavily discussed since the last extension of the restrictions,” said Baker in a phone interview.
Those tighter level red restrictions went into effect on Dec. 11 and will be in place until at least Jan. 8 because of the surging COVID-19 numbers in Manitoba.
The men’s and women’s were slated to be held in a bubble type format from February 2-7 at the Selkirk Recreation Complex while the St. Vital Curling Club was going to host the mixed doubles the following week.
Baker said Curl Manitoba’s executive and competition committees consulted with athletes and Sport Manitoba was also involved in the process.
“No decision is made lightly. You have to look at what our front line workers are going through right now. You have to look at our hospitals and what’s happening all over the province.”
Safety for the curlers, officials, ice crews, and staff was the number one issue. But there were other factors that played into the decision to cancel.
Hosting committees have expenses that have to be accounted for before the event even begins and there weren’t going to be spectators to help defray those costs.
Sponsors help alleviate some of that financial burden, but from a branding perspective, there also has to be consideration for how it might look if a major event bearing that sponsor’s name were to start just days after restrictions have been eased or lifted altogether.
Baker said another layer of that conversation was the safety of the teams who will ultimately represent Manitoba at the National Championships in February and March in Calgary.
“We’ve seen it across the country. We’ve seen it in other sports. The safest place for these athletes to play is a legitimate, lockdown bubble.” Baker said.
The reigning Mixed Doubles pair of Krysten Karwacki and Derek Samagalski, along with defending Manitoba men’s champ Jason Gunnlaugson have accepted the invite to play at nationals. But even with the free berth to his second Brier bonspiel, Gunnlaugson will still miss Manitoba’s premier curling event.
“It’s disappointment a long time coming,” Gunnlaugson said. “I think the writing has been on the wall for awhile, and while it’s disappointing that it came to this, I think it’s pretty tough to run an effective curling event in a non-bubbled environment.”
Women’s runner up Jennifer Jones has also said yes. and the rink’s Third, Kaitlyn Lawes says it’s just another example of 2020 being, well, 2020.
“It’s definitely a strange feeling but it’s kinda been going with the theme of our entire curling season. I guess you say it isn’t a surprise just due to the pandemic,” Lawes said.
“But we’re definitely disappointed that we don’t have the chance to compete against all the other great teams in our province.”
Those sentiments are pretty much echoed by 2020 Manitoba Women’s Champ Kerri Einarson as well, who had had an automatic berth into the 2021 national event after winning the Canadian title a year ago and is looking forward to defending their crown at the Markin MacPhail Centre which will serve as the curling bubble in Calgary.
“With our lives and with what’s happening with our lives right now, we’re able to do that,” said Einarson in explaining how the team arrived at their decision to compete in the Scotties National championship despite the pandemic.
“I know Curling Canada is taking all the necessary precautions to keep us all healthy and safe. we have travelled a bit already so we kind of know what to expect and are comfortable doing that.”
One thing Team Einarson is hoping for is the opportunity to just play. Back in March they had just arrived in Prince George for the World Championships when the decision was made to cancel the event because of COVID-19 just days before the competition was scheduled to begin.
And in mid-November, Team Einarson defeated Kelsey Rocque in the opening draw of the Okotoks Ladies Classic — only to have that bonspiel called off when the Province of Alberta announced tighter restrictions for battling the virus.
So fingers, toes, and any other appendages are crossed this third time will indeed be a charm.
“We sure hope so. It’s not very fun going to these events and them being cancelled,” said Einarson.
“I’m hoping this this one will be a go.”
And Baker is also optimistic the roaring game will bounce back from this latest adversity.
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“The exact message we released today with the cancelation of the provincials is stay safe in your community.
“That’s what the priority has to be, and how do you get the sport back up and going — even on a limited basis — once we’re able to. Once the Government and public health deems sports safe to return, it has to be about the community levels.”