Heartbroken. That’s how Bobby Ray described his organization’s decision to cancel the northern Ontario regional women’s curling championship, scheduled to begin next week in Kenora, Ont.
The executive director of the Northern Ontario Curling Association said the winner of that competition would have gone on to represent Team Northern Ontario at the national bonspiel, the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.
It’s a decision that is in line with several other provincial curling associations, including Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Quebec, which have also cancelled their qualifying tournaments.
Yet, the national championship, which will see 16 teams from across the country compete, is still scheduled to go ahead at the end of January in Thunder Bay, Ont., according to Nolan Thiessen, the executive director of marketing and fan experience with Curling Canada.
“We’re just working on the plans right now in terms of how we can make sure we can increase testing, increase protocols to make sure everybody is healthy and safe when they come to Thunder Bay,” Thiessen told CBC News on Wednesday afternoon.
That decision is based off the recommendations of medical staff and advisors with Curling Canada, and with the experience of successfully hosting a national tournament last year in Calgary using the “bubble” concept, where all events were held without spectators and strict COVID-19 restrictions.
“What we’re just trying to do now is take our protocols that worked there, and just tailor them to whatever we need.”
The confirmation comes as other major sporting events have been cancelled, including Curling Canada’s own Mixed Doubles Olympic Trials event, scheduled to take place this week.
Most recently, the International Ice Hockey Federation announced Wednesday it was cancelling the remainder of the world junior men’s hockey championship in Edmonton after three games were forfeited due to positive COVID-19 test results. The federation had already announced the cancellation of all events beginning in January, including the under-18 women’s championship.
Selection of teams varies across the country
The 16 teams that participate in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts include representatives from each of Canada’s 13 provinces and territories, a team from northern Ontario, the defending champion (Team Canada) and a wild card team.
In a typical year, the 14 provincial teams are determined by qualifying tournaments in the lead up to the national championship. Last year, most of those provincial championships were cancelled, with the respective curling associations choosing who would go on to the national competition.
This year, it’s more complicated.
Bobby Ray of the Northern Ontario Curling Association says they still haven’t decided who will represent the region, nor have they determined how the team will be selected. Curling Quebec has also not yet selected their representative.
Other provincial curling associations, like Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, have cancelled their qualifying tournaments and indicated the representatives will be selected based on national rankings.
Manitoba and Nunavut have already held their provincial/territorial championships and selected the teams that will represent them at the national tournament.
Several other provinces and territories, including Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, the Yukon and Northwest Territories, have not yet publicly announced that they will cancel their qualifying tournaments.
The provincial curling associations must submit the names of the teams that will go on to the Scotties Tournament of Hearts by January 9.
Scotties organizing committee still planning for spectators
Less than a month away from the scheduled start of the national women’s championship tournament, the organizing committee for the Scotties say they are still planning to host the tournament in Thunder Bay.
Diane Imrie, the vice chair of special events and volunteers, said they are still hoping the tournament can run with at least 50 per cent capacity in the Fort William Gardens, as per provincial guidelines.
The 2021 tournament was supposed to be hosted in Thunder Bay, before COVID-19 forced Curling Canada to change the venue to Calgary. Then, Thunder Bay was told it would be able to host the 2022 version of the event.
But the organizing committee has already been forced to suspend ticket sales, after Ontario announced updated COVID-19 restrictions in response to the Omicron variant on Dec. 17.
“We want to be able to host here in Thunder Bay. I know the community has been so excited about it being here,” Imrie said.
“Our bottom line is making sure the health and safety of the curlers, the fans, the volunteers and the staff is looked after.”