Just about a year from the beginning of a tumultuous chapter in curling's history, that tumult ends.
The World Curling Federation (WCF) has now formally adopted new rules to govern broom heads at all of its competitions, beginning immediately. Broom head materials will be governed strictly, as will the use of brooms at any competition sanctioned by the WCF. And, thankfully, they've backed the new regs with stiff penalties.
The new rules mean elite teams will all be playing with the same fabric and weave design on their brush heads, no matter what manufacturer is supplying them. This should do away with any kind of advantage being taken by one foursome or another due to the particular materials on their own brooms, after a season of experimentation led to an arms race of a sort - and some hard feelings - where new fabrics were constantly being introduced in order to scratch the ice on the playing surface and allow players to back up, over-curl and even slow down a stone if they desired.
Here is a summary of the new rules adopted by the WCF, as spelled out in their media release, with some thoughts on those regulations below:
Sweeping Rules R7 (a): The sweeping motion can be in any direction (it need not cover the entire width of the stone), deposits no debris in front of a moving stone, and finishes to either side of the stone.
Uniform / Equipment C3 (e): Each player must declare his or her approved sweeping device at the start of a game, and only that player can use that sweeping device for sweeping during the game.
Uniform / Equipment C3 (f): A player may not change their brush head during a game, unless the Chief Umpire grants special permission.
Uniform / Equipment C3 (g): If an alternate player comes into a game, they must use the brush head of the player they are replacing.
Rule C3(h): All Field of Play equipment used at WCF competitions must meet WCF Equipment Standards as defined and published on the WCF Website. Reasons for equipment being considered non-approved include, but not restricted to: damage to the ice surface, non-conformance with existing rules or standards (i.e. – electronic communication devices), performance testing results that give an unfair advantage, failing to register equipment with the WCF office by the deadline date.
Rule C3 (i): The penalty for using equipment in WCF competitions which does not conform to standards for Competition Equipment established by the WCF: (i) First team offence during a competition – the player is disqualified from the competition and the team forfeits the game. (ii) Second team offence during a competition – the team is disqualified from the competition and all players are not permitted to play in WCF competitions for a 12-month period.
This last one is particularly welcome. There will be no fooling around if players decide to push the limits on the new regulations. Cheating will be met with the player in question being tossed from the rest of the competition and the team takes a loss on its record. This, alone, ought to be enough to ensure no one tries to get sneaky as even one loss at a major spiel can dash a rink's chances at a playoff spot. The second portion of this rule is also welcome - and justifiably harsh - as a second infraction means you and your mates are suspended from WCF events for a year.
That, in itself, should be plenty to keep would-be cheaters at bay. It will be just a tad surprising if anyone tries to circumvent the rules based on these punishments. Beyond that, though, it seems a vast majority of players were sick and tired of the broom shenanigans of last season and almost unanimously declared that they wanted something to be done about it. Based on that - and with curling's treasured history of honesty and fair play remaining a pillar of the sport's allure for fans and competitors alike - the sanctions might not even be necessary, as we should be able to take most players at their word. Still, having them in place just in case... is a good thing.
As for broom heads for recreational curlers, the WCF does not have standing there, although its regulations will be adopted by national bodies - like Curling Canada - the world over.
The WCF is recommending that where the sport is be played for recreation and fun, or by beginners, there might be no need to limit what kinds of equipment is being used. The WCF does recommend that for competitions being played for prizes or awards, it would be "advisable" for organizers to ask that equipment used conform to the new standards.
Another of the regulations included in the newly adopted ones that might be of great interest to curling fans is R7 (a). It allows for any sweeping motion as long as it is not one that dumps debris in front of a rock. Some fans and players were calling for strict regulations on this as it was apparent that the direction of sweeping was an important consideration when it came to the trickery of last season's sweeping. However, at last spring's "Sweeping Summit," where equipment and technique went under the watchful eye of the scientific community, it was determined that sweeping technique had little to do with ridiculously altering a stone's path, unless that technique was being used in conjunction with the more aggressive materials on the broom heads. With less abrasive materials being regulated back into existence for sanctioned play, the complicated, judgmental matter of governing a player's sweeping technique was deemed not to be necessary.
So, here we are. Almost a year after the first story on what became known to some as the "broom-haha" of 2015-16, maybe we've all written our last stories and spoken our last frustrated words on the matter.
Play on, curlers. Back to the important matter at hand; Determining who is flat out better at the game these days, not just who has the better equipment.