By Darren Lum
Part of new safety measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 being implemented by the Haliburton Curling Club this season is leaving competitive curlers disappointed, looking for another facility.
The club’s protocols that are the focus of the controversy is restricting curlers to only curl in the community.
Club president Kent Milford said this isn’t just isolated to the Haliburton Curling Club and isn’t about restricting access, as it is about keeping everybody safe by measures to reduce the spread of the coronavirus in an ever changing world.
“I think a number of organizations are going to be facing [this] over the near term. The overall issue is if you can have a sport this winter, what is that sport going to look like and how do you proceed in doing it and what issues [do we] have at the legislative level, the sport level, and the community level? Because they definitely do not necessarily mesh with each other and we certainly [didn’t receive] clear directives a number of times and a number of things are continuing to evolve,” he said.
The other protocols the club plans to implement include wearing masks or a face covering at all times, no bar, no kitchen, no locker access, minimal lounge interaction, mandatory sanitization when entering, and no handshakes between curlers before or after games. This does not include other measures such as the sanitization of the facilities, whether it’s the washroom, the equipment such as the rocks, or chairs and tables.
Young competitive curlers and their parents are not happy with this decision.
Gesa Haase, who has a competitive curling daughter and son, was disappointed, calling it discriminatory.
Haase wants the club to re-examine their decision because of recent guidelines announced by Curling Canada. She doesn’t feel its fair for curlers like her son and daughter to have to choose between curling at the club and competing outside the club.
“They have all been a big part of the club for a number of years already and have been enjoying playing with the adults and learning from their experiences, however, now they are being told that they have to choose between their competitive team and the local league play!” she wrote in an email.
Milford said this isn’t about discrimination.
“The reality is you’re welcome to curl in Haliburton, but we’re asking you to not curl in multiple communities because of the regional COVID risks and safety,” he said.
He points out high school aged curlers are welcome to register for any of the club’s offerings expected to be held weekly on Monday, Wednesday and Friday just like other years.
Milford adds this has always been good for everyone.
“They have exhibited perfect curling etiquette and at times have been some of our best members and we think that is definitely instrumental in producing such high quality youth curling from a competitive level, but we’ve never had to deal with this kind of an issue before.”
However, as part of new measures for safety, the youth program with elementary school age curlers who receive instruction will not be available this year because of the difficulty with enforcing “adequate social distancing.”
Haase called the decision to restrict the club to travelling competitive curlers “crazy” because of how Curling Canada has provided safety guidelines and policies ( https://www.curling.ca/blog/ 2020/07/06/return-to-play- guidelines).
Milford doesn’t believe at this point the guidelines are enough for the safety of his membership.
“The reason is again we don’t feel we can take any risks and that includes minimal risk with any of our curlers because the vast majority of our curlers are high risk as far as COVID-19 is concerned.”
He acknowledges most of the competitive curlers affected are 20 and younger, who just don’t have the same health risks as the majority of the curlers at the club.
Although Curling Canada and Ontario Curling don’t have an issue with travelling, the provincial government recommends against travelling, he said.
“We knew that was in the legislative guidelines so what I’ve seen so far with regard to other sports and team play in different communities it would appear that they’re supporting in one form or another the position that we’ve taken. I didn’t want to imply that we’re just been doing this based on the letter of the law. We’re trying to do this based on how we felt we would need to keep our curling community as safe as we possibly could,” he said.
He acknowledges it is unknown if there is a risk to the club if a curler who wants to curl in Minden and Haliburton. This has yet to be decided.
Haase’s biggest issue with the decision is how “competitive curlers need the chance to practice and hone their skills to be at the competitive level for their team. That is being taken from them, when anybody that goes shopping or leaves their home or town to go to Costco etcetera has just as much of a chance of picking up the virus,” she said.
Milford understands the dangers related to travel out of province or out of the community, but doesn’t see it as any different than what people have already been doing to keep their communities safe, which is to ask people to isolate or quarantine themselves after travelling.
“But, specifically, with regard to curling, when you’re curling in different communities you can’t determine what other people have been doing and you are coming to close proximity to that and then they’re coming back and coming right into the curling club. Not just back into the community,” he said. “I understand it’s a grey area, but we felt that that made the most sense in terms of a protocol for our community to try to keep the community as safe as possible and yet still offer accessibility to the sport.”
Milford said the club’s stance related to implementing these protocols goes back to the beginning of summer when it faced the dilemma of how to have a season throughout the threat of the coronavirus.
This resulted in a number of events being cancelled in the Highlands such as the Haliburton Home and Cottage Show, which the club hosts and sponsors.
“Our board took the position that above all the mandate was safety: community safety and of all of our curlers. We wanted to protect everyone of our Haliburton curlers regardless. And that was the No. 1 focal point,” he said.
A club survey was conducted among the membership, which included more than 200 curlers, who had paid full rate membership fees last season. The main question posed was whether curlers would be interested or not in curling with COVID-19 safety protocols. Milford said the results indicated more than half would curl. Other questions were related to acceptance of a flat fee and if they would be travelling out of the province in the winter.
More than 90 per cent of those agreeing to curl with protocols said they would accept the flat fee, and the majority would be staying the duration of the winter to curl, which was important because in a typical year the club would only have a third stay.
Even with half of all full rate curlers interested in registering, the board still grappled with the question if it was worth it and produced a model to enable the start of a season, which was presented during a Zoom meeting to all of the curling club. This was followed up with an email to the membership, summarizing the meeting.
“There was nothing at all that indicated that any particular people couldn’t curl at our club, but as part of our protocols of what we indicated is that if you curl in our community in terms of Haliburton that’s fine, but if you’re curling in other communities then we would ask you to not curl in this community because of regional COVID-19 issues and I suspect that is the core of the controversy,” he said.
This survey did not include youth curlers or adult curlers, who did not pay for a full rate membership.
Competitive curler Jacob Dobson, who will be skipping the under 18/under 20 team competing on the Junior Curling Tour of Ontario, was also disappointed by the decision and the reasons behind them.
“I believe that this rule affects a small group of people who would even be satisfied with getting a few hours a week just to get out and practice. The rules also make less sense when other members of the club have the opportunity to go out, for example, shopping where they could be exposed to the virus without knowing. Yet we aren’t allowed to use the club because we travel to clubs where we have to follow the strict guidelines set out by Curling Canada, CurlON, the Junior Curling Tour of Ontario, and the host club,” he said in a text. “The club did not even include us in surveys before making their decision, they did minimal if any research into the competitive side of the game to determine whether we would be higher risk.”
Milford said the club was interested in learning about the financial picture of the season through the survey so it only invited members, who had paid the same full rate for the year.
After the survey’s results came back there was a meeting for the entire club where everyone was part of the response and plan, he added.
Dobson believes the club could lose a lot of young curlers because of the club’s decision to not have a youth program, which includes Tuesday and Thursday for elementary school students and Friday evenings for high school aged curlers.
“I believe this is a poor choice in regards to the expansion of the game. By not running the youth program this year there is a large likelihood there would be curlers who choose not to return to the game as well as losing a year of bringing more curlers into the game. I believe there are effective ways to allow youth to curl while keeping in mind protecting people from COVID-19.”
Milford said it’s important to remember these decisions are part of an effort to address safety in a landscape that is constantly changing.
When the pandemic is over he welcomes everyone to return.
“We’re going to keep everybody as safe as we can in this environment and we think this is the best thing we can do for the community,” he said. “And for all our youth curlers, I hope we see you curling at our club. If you feel that it’s best for each individual to try and remain competitive and curl elsewhere we understand. There definitely appears to be significant questions about whether or not any form of team curling that is inter-community will happen or not. I think it needs to be resolved by the legislative bodies and the health units, and organizations over the next little while.”