‘I think they should just call it’: Curlers question whether provincials should proceed

The Viterra Championship and the Manitoba Scotties Tournament of Hearts will have sweeping changes due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Both events will now be staged at the same time in Selkirk at the start of February, but with a lot fewer teams.

“I’m thankful it’s not my decision I think more than anything,” Jason Gunnlaugson said.

The next provincial curling championship will be like no other. If health restrictions permit, 16 teams will battle for the Viterra crown, while only eight rinks will be in the field for the Scotties. And Manitoba’s defending men’s champ who’s only played in one event this season, thinks it’s going to be an uphill battle just to stage provincials, let alone the regional qualifiers.

“I think they’ve done the best that they can,” Gunnlaugson said. “It’s going to be tough. I’ve kinda been right from get-go here thinking it’s going to be really, really hard to run any curling events, especially outside a bubble, really this whole season. I think I like they’ve made a few different options, it’s going to be really, really tough to do it safely.

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“It’s always going to be odd if it’s not the 32-team massive, wonderful event that can only happen in Manitoba in a normal year.”

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If qualifiers can’t be held, Curl Manitoba is prepared to host provincials with as few as four teams. And if the Viterra can’t be played at all, Gunnlaugson would represent Manitoba at the Brier as the defending champ.

“I don’t hate it I guess,” he said. “But I think really, 16 people passed away today, or in the last 24 hours or whatever in Manitoba. I think we’re just hoping we can get [COVID-19] under control in our region and worry about that. The chances of any sport really getting to happen at a non-professional level seems fairly low to me.”

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William Lyburn, the 2019 runner-up, has qualified for every men’s championship for more than 10 straight years. He doesn’t have a berth yet and hasn’t even played a game so far this season.

“To go drastically from 32 teams to 16 teams is just a disaster in my opinion,” Lyburn said. “You could go to 24 because that would be the same as you’re adding the women. Run the women’s event the weekend before. The ice is already going to be in the complex.

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“It makes no sense to have the women’s and the guy’s together cause now you’re just lumping different bubbles together.

“I’m not sure why they wouldn’t just run them back-to-back weeks if the ice is going to be in, keep the women’s event separate and keep the men’s event separate.”

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And with a shrunken field, Lyburn also objects to the new qualifying process after a pair of berths were previously handed out at Manitoba Curling Tour events. Since most competitions have been cancelled, he would prefer they select berths based on results from last year’s provincials.

“Take it from last year’s championship,” Lyburn said. “You could take all the eight qualifiers from last year’s championship. Give them a reward for qualifying last year if it is in fact gonna be going ahead, but only with a limited few teams. Why change up the apple cart? It only makes sense. If they’re going to use last year’s defending champion, why not go right through the whole thing and say last year’s final eight teams play off for the spot. To me, that’s more fair.”

And Lyburn questions if it’s even worth holding if only four teams are competing.

“I think they should just call it,” Lyburn said. “Why would they even have a provincial championship then? Just send last year’s winners.

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“Don’t play and just give it to Gunnlaugson, rather than risk anybody else getting infected or coming down with COVID.”

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