Curling's broom brouhaha: Manufacturer fights back

Mke McEwen at the 2014 Canadian Open. (Anil Mungal/Sportsnet)
Mke McEwen at the 2014 Canadian Open. (Anil Mungal/Sportsnet)

Looks like the controversy over broom heads is not going away quietly. It might even be getting messier.

While a large group of elite level players and teams released a statement proclaiming they would no longer use broom heads with "directional fabric" on them, seems Hardline Curling - manufacturer of the IcePad broom head - was crafting their own release, which it has now posted on its website.

Hardline's lengthy statement, undersigned by its president Archie Manavian, claims the company is being unfairly singled out and that it is, in essence, the victim of some corporate skulduggery.

From Hardline's statement:

"Hardline Curling believes that all of this trumped-up controversy has been engineered by a small group of players, acting on behalf of their equipment supplier in order to stop the loss of its market share to Hardline. This is nothing other than corporate bullying."

While the Hardline statement didn't mention a company by name, it is hard to imagine that the finger is not being pointed at BalancePlus. That company introduced a new broom at a men's event, in Toronto, last weekend. The so-called "Blackhead" allowed players to do remarkable things with curling stones, including slowing them down, backing them up and curling them even more than ever thought possible.

Those types of things, many players assert, you can also do with Hardline's IcePad head, though not to the same extent. Fearing what continued advancements in broom head technology could do, 22 elite level curling teams - including Team Mike McEwen and Team Reid Carruthers, who began using the IcePad heads last season - released a statement proclaiming they would no longer be using broom heads with directional fabric on them. Many believe Hardline's brooms are also employing this type of fabric to control rocks beyond what is deemed acceptable, although there has been no consensus on whether the broom heads actually damage the ice.

Manavian told me earlier this week, without reservation, that his company's broom heads "do not" damage the ice.

His company's statement goes on to claim that its broom heads do not use directional fabric:

"First, we strongly disagree that the IcePad cover has directional-fabric. Our fabric is diamond-shaped and not uni-directional. Second, we further disagree with the term “unfair advantage.” “Unfair” would indicate that the icePad is not playing within the rules of curling, which is not true! “Unfair” would mean that not everyone could play with it when, in fact, the IcePad is available for anyone to use and play with. However, if one chooses not to play with it that is their choice."

"In recent weeks there has been an elite-level-player movement to remove so-called “directional-fabric” brushes from the elite-level of play only, including, unfairly, the icePad. Some claim that with the power of elite-level sweepers, they have the ability to direct the curling stone, or control it like a “joystick.” This group has brought some unwarranted claims that anyone playing with the icePad has an unfair advantage."

"If it was felt that the icePad provided an unfair advantage, why were these issues not brought up in the last three years when the icePad has been on tour? Why was this not brought up during the off-season in order to give suppliers a fair chance to adhere to acceptable standards to the elite players? Why should Hardline have to incur extra costs to supply our players with replacements when we have done absolutely nothing wrong? WHY DID CERTAIN TEAMS ON THE CURL CANADA LETTER APPROACH US FOR SPONSORSHIP THIS PAST SUMMER IF THEY THOUGHT THAT THE ICEPAD WAS AN ISSUE?"

There may well be some valid points in Hardline's statement, but some explanations countering some of them as well. For instance, "certain teams on the Curl Canada (sic) letter" may have approached Hardline for sponsorship deals simply because they felt nothing was going to be done about regulating broom heads and they merely did not want to be left behind.

There is only opinion from some that the Hardline brooms are using directional fabric and that they may be damaging the ice. It does not appear that any hard scientific data exists - at least none that has been brought to light if that is the case.

There is a way to settle this once and for all and that is to do extensive testing of the broom heads in question, to see if they do, in fact, damage a curling surface.

There are so many questions that remain unanswered in this whole mess but there is one that maybe sticks out as a little more pressing:

If McEwen and Carruthers were using these brooms last season - with great success - why did no one notice what the brooms were capable of? It's a question that needs an answer when you consider that, this season, Brad Gushue's team started to use the IcePad broom heads and immediately raised eyebrows with how they were able to manipulate their rocks in ways not seen before, and at times, with just one sweeper.

Another question that begs an answer is: Where is Curling Canada in all of this? So far, its chief response seems to be that the question of broom head regulation lies in the hands of the players, or the World Curling Federation, even though players like Gushue have asked them, publicly, to take on a larger role.

Do Hardline's broom heads use directional fabric or not? Because 22 teams - some of which have contracts to use Hardline products - have publicly declared they will not use that technology going forward. That includes competition this weekend and the next Grand Slam event, in Nova Scotia, beginning on the 27th. Will the McEwen, Carruthers and Gushue teams have those pads on the ends of their brooms?

This story continues to take the twists and turns of a curling rock guided by a directional fabric broom head.

I guess we're not done here. Hardline Curling's full statement can be found here.