The last few months have been a hectic time at the CURLSASK offices in Regina as they look to bring curling back to Saskatchewan rinks after everything came to a halt in March as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s been an absolute roller-coaster,” executive director Ashley Howard said. “There’s been ups and downs on a daily basis and things are changing on the fly sometimes.
“It’s really been a challenging time, but we are fortunate to be fighting back here and now we’ve reached a point where we are getting closer to returning to the ice.”
With Curling Canada’s return to play plan being used as a template, CURLSASK released their return to curling guidelines to the public on Thursday.
“It’s a huge relief to get that out there and really start to share that positive message that curling is a safe sport to take part in and we have a safe plan in place to get our members back out on the ice again,” Howard said.
“We’ve had an opportunity to connect with our curlers through our member surveys and through our virtual town hall meetings as well through all of this, and that’s been a nice silver lining. It always shocks me when we see the amount of people who are willing to give up a nice evening in July or August to talk curling.”
One of the major talking points in Curling Canada’s return to play guidelines, which came out last month, is in regards to sweeping.
In their recommendations, skips can no longer sweep a rock behind the tee-line and teams are asked to have to just one sweeper on a rock instead of the traditional two.
“We’ve received around 300 comments thus far about the sweeping rules and certain scenarios that take place during the course of a game,” Howard said.
“We’re trying to prevent the spread (of COVID-19) as much as possible and keeping the social distancing rules in place, but we’ve also left some discretion for those rules that teams, members and clubs can go by. If there’s members of the same household, spouses or an age demographic where they feel comfortable with the local conditions, they can take advantage of having two sweepers.”
Thursday’s also included protocols for curling clubs to follow so that they go open and operate safely during the 2020-21 season.
“We would all hate to see COVID-19 be used as an excuse for clubs to not get back going this season,” Howard said. “That’s why we’ve put in so much work to getting the guidelines information out there so we can communicate the practices for clubs to follow.
“We’ve put together a common sense approach so that we can all find a way to get back out and curl, then build things up from there.”
When it comes to competitive curling events, CURLSASK has teamed up with Curl BC and Curling Alberta to come up with a provincial team rankings system that will be used in lieu of Curling Canada’s CTRS system, which has been suspended due to the pandemic.
“If we’re allowed to travel more freely at some point during the season, this system is in place, but we can also rank teams from events within the province and those that have limited teams with the round-robin formats,” Howard said. “CurlManitoba is also involved with this, but they aren’t using it to determine their provincial qualifiers.
“As far as events go, we’ve been really happy with the responses that we’ve gotten back from the provincial government in terms of going ahead with meaningful games and events, especially since we are a non-contact sport. We need to be mindful of the protocols that are in place though and we’ve taken away some of the large gatherings that we would normally have, such as luncheons or opening ceremonies.”
CURLSASK plans to start implanting their new guidelines next month at the Sutherland Curling Club in Saskatoon, which will serve as their high performance centre for this season.
“The ice goes in next week and we’re going to hold a couple of small test events with round-robin formats,” Howard said.
“We plan to share the information that we get from that event to our other clubs as they’ll get ready to open in October.”
The first major competition on the curling calendar is the Under-17 men’s and women’s qualifying events, which are currently scheduled for Nov. 20-22 in Moose Jaw and Dec. 4-6 in Prince Albert.