It really does appear that the tail is wagging the dog when it comes to curling’s residency rules in Canada.
The Brier, Canadian Curling Association’s crown jewel, was built on the tradition of a group of men playing together at the same club and eventually capturing a national title representing their club, their municipality and their province.
The Ontario Curling Association rules still state that teams playing down to reach the Brier must have memberships in the same club but often these only have just one (perhaps none) who are active members at the facility.
Players naturally progressed to searching wider and wider for compatible and talented teammates so it should be no surprise that eventually the search went outside the province. Many players moved to other provinces to play. Eventually, someone wanted to play for another province and not leave their own province. A criteria was established that a driver’s licence, health card, residency and employment would determine whether you could call a province your home. You would need three of the four.
When asked on national television how longtime Manitoba player Jon Mead could play for Ontario’s Glenn Howard, Canadian Curling Association representative Warren Hansen cited that criteria.
The question should have been asked if Mead had actually met that criteria.
“Athletes who received exemptions under the residency rules ... they were granted these exemptions based on their work requirements to be in Ontario,” said the Ontario association’s chief executive Steve Chenier.
At the curling congress held in August a new policy was formed. It was agreed an exemption could be granted if the player was based in two provinces due to an employment situation. It is due to this exemption that Mead is being allowed to represent Ontario. The nature of his work is apparently confidential.
“I cannot discuss their employment status due to privacy rules. Both Manitoba and Ontario (curling associations) had to agree to this (Mead’s) exemption and it is the same one used last year with John Morris playing out of British Columbia.”
So the loopholes are being found and it is player-driven. The associations, both provincial and national, plan to revise the policy even further. An announcement on this front is expected to be made in February. One possibility is allowing one out-of-province player per team.
Let’s hope that is the limit.
The Brier does not represent the top 14 teams in Canada but the top 14 teams all had a crack at getting there starting with their association’s qualifying process. Outside of Newfoundland’s Brad Gushue, teams from the Maritimes and territories are not among today’s elite teams but are represented. The Brier still sees a quarter million fans go through the turnstiles in a week when held in Edmonton, Calgary and Saskatoon. The Brier final brings in more than one million television viewers.
The Canada Cup, limited to the best teams in the country, does not pull in quite the same numbers but it is getting closer. More than 700,000 people watched the men’s final two weeks ago.
Curling’s governing bodies should keep that in mind. Maybe the solution is to continue the Brier but make the Canada Cup the qualifying event for the world championships. The Brier doesn’t decide our Olympic representative despite being considered our national championship. The Olympic Trials does that.
Canadian’s don’t tune in just to see the sport’s best when it comes to the Brier and the Tournament of Hearts.
Canadians tune in to see one of the country’s greatest traditions with players representing every part of our country. The players in it could be your neighbour or the manager from the local beer store.
That’s still pretty cool.
In senior men’s playdowns, Terry Corbin (Westmount) and Frank Gowman (Galt) advanced to regionals. Gowman along with current vice Bruce McRae won the Ontario senior men’s championship in 2005. Regionals are in Huntsville Jan. 17-18
Glenn Howard was back at Tankard zones for the first time since 2006 over the weekend, advancing to regionals out of Zone 10 easily with two straight wins. Region 3 playdowns are in Gravenhurst, Jan. 3-4. Aaron Squires (K-W) and Damien Villard (Galt Country) will be among the rinks trying to trip up Howard en route to the Ontario Tankard.
Galt Curling Club is hosting the Ontario Junior Curling Championships Jan. 7-11.
Follow Brian Belfry on Twitter: @belfrycurling