It might be that the latest in curling broom technology is about to be reined in, as more and more elite players speak up on the matter. While no official announcements have been made, some leadership is coming from the women's side of Canadian curling, with two of the game's best skips asserting their feelings about regulation.
For now, it may be a self-imposed regulation.
“I think we’re all in agreement that we’re not going to be using it (the latest broom head technology) against each other and we all have an understanding moving forward that we need to stay with what we’ve been using in the past,” said two-time national champion Rachel Homan.
“We’ve spoken with a few teams on tour and we’re all in agreement. It’s not where we want to take the sport," she added, speaking about relatively new broom heads that have been developed and deployed at a much higher level this season. Fitted with what is being called "directional material," these heads are exponentially increasing the control sweepers can have over a rock, almost with magical precision. (You can read more about that here)
"The solution is simple really," wrote three-time Alberta champ Val Sweeting in an email. "Don't use that fabric."
"It's not about winning and losing, it's about what's right for the game," she wrote.
While the original fabric was limited to brooms made by one particular manufacturer, there has been an explosion of teams using a similar fabric this season. Knock-offs have become the norm as teams scramble to ensure they're not being left at a distinct disadvantage.
“We used them for the first time," said Homan, "for a few games this past weekend and we used them to test them out to see what was going on with new technology. We weren’t too happy with the way teams are using them.”
“You can make the rock go wherever you want," she said, echoing the sentiments of many players who've been heard on the subject. "You can slow it down, you can make it curl (more), you can make it fall out. It doesn’t even really matter where you throw it at that point. You can just tell it where to go with the broom and it goes there."
"It’s not really where we wanna see the sport,” she said.
Over the past weekend, another manufacturer took the advancements to another level, introducing a new broom head at a men's event, in Toronto. The alarm bells over how far engineering should be able to go began to clang in deafening fashion.
"There shouldn't have to be a written rule to know that manipulating a rock in that manner is wrong," wrote Sweeting. "There's not a lot more to say... We have the same stance as the men. It takes shooting accuracy, sweeping skill level and even ice reading out of the game when you can steer a rock to wherever you want. And not only that, it can affect the path for the other team and make it a guessing game out there. Not something ideal when we put so many hours into this sport."
"I know a lot of teams using (directional fabric) were not aware of any of this. But some teams were told how to use it in this manner. And it's wrong," Sweeting wrote.
There is speculation that a player-imposed moratorium on broom heads with these materials could take effect, if not immediately, then by the time the season's second Grand Slam of Curling event takes place, beginning October 27th in Truro, Nova Scotia.
“I think it’s gonna happen immediately," said Homan. We’re all understanding that we’re all using different equipment and we’re all trying to figure out what’s best for the sport moving forward. So, we’re gonna have a few conversations in the near future about how we’re going to do that as best we can.”
As for technological advancement in curling, Homan says she's not against it at all. However the directional fabrics on broom heads are not for her.
“It’s exciting that there’s new technology and they’re bringing new things into the game, but it’s not going to be for high level competition any more, I don’t think. It’s something that we, as players, don’t want to use going forward.”
MEN'S SKIPS ADD THEIR OPINIONS
Meanwhile, on the men's side, a couple of skips had their say. Brad Gushue, whose team started to use the directional fabric at the beginning of this year, is looking for more leadership from the national body, Curling Canada, when it comes to regulation. He's previously stated that he's open to the possibility of more oversight.
"I think it's their role to get this right and to protect the game and protect the interests of the curlers and the ice makers and even the people watching the game," he said of Curling Canada. "They need to figure out what's going on and what (is) the best way to go forward. Because the players, no matter how good their interests are, there's gonna be some sort of self-serving interest in there. As genuine as a lot of guys are, it's just inevitable. We're all human and you're gonna tend to favour a rule that's gonna benefit you."
"When you have an impartial body - a governing body - like curling Canada, they should be able to make a rule that's gonna be best for the sport and best for the future of the sport."
Mike McEwen, whose team began to use heads with the so-called directional fabric last season, wrote in an email:
"I do not know of anyone at the Slam level against regulating equipment specifically for our elite events/tours. Our team is 100% on board and all I know is that some details are still being sorted out. Good on the players for driving this initiative!"