Representation on world stage not guaranteed for Hearts winner this year

·3 min read

One of the main carrots for the winning team at the Canadian women's curling championship is not guaranteed this year.

Normally the Scotties Tournament of Hearts champion represents Canada on the world stage later in the season. But that tradition may be skipped in 2021 given the recent cancellation of the world playdowns, originally planned for late March in Switzerland.

In its Hearts media guide, Curling Canada said the national champions would represent Canada if the world championship was rescheduled for this season.

But that appears to be a long shot. The World Curling Federation has said it's more realistic that a replacement event is created for next season — likely in early autumn — and that it would serve as the main Olympic qualifier for the 2022 Beijing Games.

If that's the case, the Hearts winner would be "factored into Canada's efforts to qualify a four-player women's team for the Beijing Games," according to the guide.

"I think we just need to figure out what the WCF is going to do," Nolan Thiessen, Curling Canada's director of broadcast, marketing, innovation and event presentation, told The Canadian Press on a video call this week.

"We have to ultimately see how it fits with everyone's schedule as well because it's obviously so important for Curling Canada to make sure that we go there (to a world championship) and we get a top-six (finish) and get directly into the Games.

"That one is play it by ear and see what the WCF does before we officially (announce) what we're going to do."

In an email Friday, WCF media head Christopher Hamilton said that there had been no new developments since the world championship was cancelled on Feb. 8.

There was no mention of future representation on the world stage in Curling Canada's news release ahead of the Hearts, which was to begin Friday night in a bubble setting at Calgary's Markin MacPhail Centre.

Curling Canada did note that the Hearts champions would get a berth in the 2021 Olympic Trials in November and earn $100,000 of the $300,000 total purse. The winners also get to return to the 2022 Hearts in Thunder Bay, Ont., as Team Canada.

It's the second straight year that the women's world championship had to be cancelled. The 2020 event in Prince George, B.C., was scrubbed last March.

The WCF said that Swiss health authorities did not provide permission for the March 19-28 event in Schaffhausen due to the pandemic and concerns around the spread of new variants.

The men's world championship is set for April 2-11, one of six events in the Calgary bubble.

The top six finishers at the worlds will secure Olympic berths for their respective countries. If China doesn't finish in the top six, it will qualify automatically as host.

A last-chance qualifier is planned for December to fill out the 10-country field for the Beijing Games next February.

Teams skipped by Rachel Homan and Kevin Koe represented Canada at the Pyeongchang Games in 2018. Neither rink reached the podium.

Canada's John Morris and Kaitlyn Lawes won gold in mixed doubles, a discipline that made its Olympic debut in South Korea.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 19, 2021.

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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press