Column: Canadian curlers stuck between a rock and a hard place

By Brian Hickey

Even after the last rock is thrown at next month’s Nokia Brier in Ottawa, the event’s success will sadly be judged on how many kegs of beer were downed rather than its athletic merit.

This is unfortunate considering that the country’s best male curlers will unite to determine not only a national champion, but also another entry to attend the Canadian Olympic trials next year.

Why do curling events in Canada strike up images of smoky taverns rather than world class athletes drawing to the button to win the game?

The blame rests with media coverage that insists on making suggestive alcohol-related cracks at the expense of the sport.

For example, a column in a local newspaper earlier this month made the following remark about Ontario men’s curling championship that took place in Woodstock: “After the last rock is tossed, tennis elbow will be epidemic, mostly suffered by local bartenders working worn-out taps.”

The writer goes on to make many good points like how many great teams get left behind due to immense curling talent in Canada, only to see these elements discredited with his reference to binge drinking.

Another prime example appeared in a Winnipeg newspaper last year when it was stated: “Curling used to be such a simple game. Making ice wasn’t a science; there was no such shot as a double-raise takeout and flop behind cover; and strategy was limited whether to choose regular or light beer.”

These alcohol-related phrases may not intend to put the game down, but they contribute to negative stereotypes.

Beer companies might sponsor events, but this doesn’t mean that curlers drink while they play. There’s a lot on the line considering weekend tournaments have $1,000 entry fees and $10,000 cash prizes.

In reality, curlers practise many hours to master their craft.

It’s unlikely that the average person could throw a curling rock 130 feet only to see it stop within inches of its intended destination.

There’s no denying that alcohol plays a role at most sporting events, but curling seems to get an unfairly harsh rap.

Part of the National Football League’s pre-game ritual is to have a tailgate party where thousands of fans eat, drink and celebrate in the stadium parking lot. News reports the next day don’t feature a commentary about how much Budweiser the fans drank before watching Doug Flutie complete four touchdown passes.

How about the infamous 19th hole in golf? This term is not used to describe a hidden par-3 hole, but rather the course bar found in the comfort of the clubhouse.It’s also golf courses that are notorious for having greens littered with cigarette butts and garbage containers overflowing with beer cans. Most courses even sell beer to players while they golf. All this considered, it’s guaranteed that “Tiger Woods” and “beer” are never mentioned in the same story.

At the same time, Canadian curlers have earned the right to get more respect. Fourteen of the last 21 Brier Champions have gone on to win World Curling Championships.

Curling is also an official Olympic sport, having made its debut at the 1998 Winter Olympic Games.

The Brier is an opportunity for critics to find a new angle and finally give Canadian curling the public profile it deserves.