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Friday, November 20, 2009

Why curling doesn’t need referees

Hand Of God by BalakovThe front page and sports section of today’s Globe and Mail report on French soccer star’s Thierry Henry’s controversial handball (touching the ball – strictly against the rules) that led to France’s winning goal in their victory over Ireland in a World Cup qualifying match.

Controversial doesn’t even begin to describe it.  Players saw the infraction.  Henry himself admits to the infraction, but because the referee didn’t call it, play continued.  “Yes, there was a hand,” admits Henry.  “But I’m not the referee.  Of course I kept playing.”

In other words: Yes, I cheated.  So?

In Thursday night’s NHL game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Carolina Hurricanes, Ian White was slapped with a double minor for highsticking and drawing blood.  Viewers could clearly see White protesting to the referee that “it wasn’t me.”  And he was right.  The stick that drew blood belonged to a Carolina player. And to make things worse, the Hurricanes scored the tying goal on the ensuing power play.  What’s with that?

Fortunately for curlers, we are our own referees. We rarely have to rely on outside decisions to control the outcome of a game.  Measurements are witnessed and agreed upon by both vices.  In club play, vices do the measuring themselves.  If someone kicks a rock and touches it with the brush, it’s reported and dealt with.  We’ve all seen situations of burned rocks where the non-offending skip simply waved a hand and said “No problem.”  It would be easy not to admit that little contact between a guard and a badly placed foot – contact that made no difference at all to the position of the rock or the outcome of the shot.  But we acknowledge the contact anyway. 

And sometimes the results are catastrophic.  Ask Kerry Burtnyk, whose Olympic dream disappeared with a burned rock in the last end of his quarterfinal game against Jason Gunnlaugson at the Road to the Roar.  Would that draw have scored a winning point if a sweeper hadn’t touched it on the way?  It doesn’t matter. The rock was burned, the culprit admitted it, and the rock was removed.  It was the right thing to do.  Nobody needed a referee to tell them so.

And yet – let’s ask Marie France Larouche about “referees” of the technological kind.  I’m talking about theRock by mgroves sensors in her rock that indicated a hog-line violation during the second end of her game against Amber Holland.  Replays made it very difficult to see, and Larouche was clearly upset by the official’s decision that the sensors were functioning.  The rock was removed.  Was it a hog-line violation?  Did she retouch the rock after letting it go?

“I don't remember a time when I had a hogline violation, but that happened here,” said Larouche after the game, taking  full responsibility.  “I'm the only person to blame for it. We were not able to come around after that. They played well and they deserve it.”

Exactly the kind of response you would expect from a curler.  We don’t cheat, and we don’t need referees to keep us in line. Maybe other more high-paying and high-profile sports could learn something from us.

(Photo of Lego soccer by balakov; photo of rock by mgroves: Creative Commons licence)


  1. Great post! I sat in St Thomas and watched my then-boyfriend's Briar dreams go up in smoke when the skip stone picked on something and stopped dead in what would have been a raised double takeout to steal 3 and get back in the end. It had been on the perfect trajectory, exact release, right on target and then it picked. The finals of the Provincials leave no room for missed shots, and Russ Howard and Co went on to the Brier.
    The skip's reaction? A bowed head, a shrug and a slide to the centre to hold the broom for the next end. No protests, no replays, no tantrums. A pick is a pick.

  2. Don't blame Henry. The rules of soccer/football do not let even a possibility to admit one's own fault! The play continues until the referee blows his whistle and that's the rule!

    Luckily the tradition and history of curling are well implemented in our rules and curlers' situation is completely different...

    But believe me the burden of curler ethics weighs a lot for all those newcomers to the sport who didn't grow up in this ethos. For us it's just not 'normal behaviour'...

    You Canadians have to teach us (curlers from countries where the game is present since 5, 10 or 20 years) and the stories like that with Burtnyk has a true impact on our development in that aspect... Thanks.

  3. Should have written 'natural behaviour'. Sorry for my English...

  4. Thanks so much for your comment, Enthusiast. Your English is great - and it's a thrill to hear from a Polish curler. Best wishes!