The COVID-19 pandemic has created ongoing and unexpected challenges for CurlSask.
COVID-19 has Saskatchewan’s curlers between a rock and a hard place.
The players want to throw rocks in competitive situations, but have encountered guards, in a sense, due to the Saskatchewan Health Authority’s efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“It has been a battle to make sure that we got our clubs open and back on the ice,’’ Ashley Howard, the executive director of CurlSask, said Wednesday. “That accomplishment can’t be lost in some of the struggles that we’re having with competitive curling right now, because you can’t have one without the other. If you don’t have a curling club open, you can’t run your competition.”
CurlSask encountered competitive issues last week when bonspiels on the Saskatchewan men’s and women’s curling tours were cancelled at the last minute due to the SHA’s COVID-19 restrictions.
CurlSask cancelled the bonspiels, set for the Highland and Martensville curling clubs, after an increase in COVID-19 cases and on the advice of the Saskatchewan government’s business response team.
The men’s bonspiel was to feature 24 teams at the Highland and 19 squads had registered for the women’s competition in Martensville. The anticipated turnouts both exceeded the government’s mandate against indoor gatherings of more than 50 individuals.
The government was also concerned about bonspiels having larger numbers than regular league play (which is permitted), the travel between competitions, the amount of play between teams outside their mini-leagues and the mingling of spectators before, during and after competitions.
Howard felt that CurlSask had done all that it could to meet the government’s guidelines, including social distancing.
“Because we’re one of the sports that fits into the physical distancing box, we built our competitions under that premise,” Howard said. “That’s still the discussion point with the government, but they now understand that we can physically distance. With larger case counts, they still want to keep us to 50 people, because there is a little bit of travel between communities.
“I totally understand that they don’t want to spread the virus. That’s why I was caught off guard by that call and, when you’re in a defensive position, you’ve pretty well lost the argument.”
CurlSask is moving forward by reviewing all aspects of the game, from clubs to leagues to curlers to high-performance and elite competitions.
“We’ve identified all of our problems and we’ve tried to prioritize them,” Howard said. “The position we’re in right now is getting more information and guidance. We’ll get that guidance and then make the best curling decisions on where we have to go from here.”
That guidance includes Saskatchewan’s participation in the Canadian men’s and women’s championships. That may be in doubt due to out-of-province travel by curling teams being banned by the SHA. The ban may also impact what playdowns format is used for Saskatchewan’s provincial championships.
“We’re really rooted in our desire to have competitions to declare our champions because that’s what our whole sport is about,” Howard said.
Howard added she’s already dealing with the financial impact of the pandemic. It began with the cancellation of some championships in the spring. There are now questions as to whether CurlSask can fulfill its contracts with sponsors.
“That is definitely a challenge,” she said. “Most clubs are reporting that they are consistent year to year and there aren’t any major losses and that’s because people feel it’s a safe sport. They just want to get out and play.”