Controversy can be fun in sports.
It can light up Twitter, and set tongues wagging at the local watering hole in lively debate. Unfortunately, it can also lead to some instant and quite possibly uncalled for character assassination.
What it can also do is be a catalyst for some change and that just might be where the game of curling stands today after a controversial eighth end during a World Curling Championship playoff game between the United States and Japan.
Maybe it's time for a few more decisions to be taken away from the players and handed to officials.
U.S. skip John Shuster is taking a lot of flak - some of it unwarranted - after his team's 5-4 win over Japan in the 3 v 4 playoff game, in Basel, Switzerland. That win was partially fashioned on the three points scored by the U.S. in the eighth end, an end where many believe the Americans were only entitled to two points.
With his last stone, and without hammer, Japanese skip Yusuke Morozumi was attempting a double takeout. He removed one American stone and the other U.S. rock hit a Japanese stone that was out of the rings, just above the tee line, crashing that Japanese rock against the side bumper. The U.S. rock that had jammed was spinning along the edge of the 12-foot when that Japanese stone - now out of play because it had touched the bumper, bounced back and clicked the American stone. The U.S. stone was pushed further back and further in towards the rings, coming to a stop as it just nibbled the edge of the house.
The Japanese immediately pointed to that rock. They were sure it was going out of the rings had it not been touched by that rebounding stone. Shuster was adamant that the American stone would have stayed in. Many replays were shown (some in slow motion which didn't really help since a clear judgment needs to be made on rock speed in a situation like that), much discussion ensued and Shuster's insistence carried the argument. The United States lay two and Shuster drew for a third point with his final shot.
That's because - as is the case in many calls on infractions in the game of curling - it is the non-offending team that gets to make the final determination on what they honestly believe would have been the outcome of the shot in question. (Go to the 1:40 mark of the video below to see the shot)
You can be angry with Shuster because you feel that he made the wrong decision. Fair enough. I agree with the opinion that the U.S. rock was probably leaving the rings. Probably. However, after watching the replay over and over again, that's the best I could do. Probably. Beyond that, unless you know the man well and have some good evidence to suggest he's an unethical cad, it might be a good idea to refrain from calling him a cheater or calling his character into question. Maybe he just felt very sure that the rock wasn't going out of the rings, right? Just maybe he's a good guy who made a determination that we don't agree with. "It’s a tough situation," Shuster said after the game. "We watched the replay a bunch of times. If I would have ever thought that our rock was going out of the house, I would have never ever left it."
That yellow was never staying in the house....crazy! #wmcc2016
— Eve Muirhead (@evemuirhead) April 9, 2016
Perhaps John Shuster might rather not even have to make that call. Because he'd be better off moaning about the officials and a determination he disagreed with instead of being the target of the torches and pitchforks set. That's probably the important takeaway from all of this. Not that John Shuster is a cheater or that the Japanese have no one to blame but themselves for not stopping a rock that bounced back into play and affected an important stone's trajectory. On that note: Curlers are predominantly worried about touching rocks as they sweep. That's the default position; Don't touch rocks. To argue that the Japanese sweeper should have been able to have his brain calculate and adjust to the idea that a rock that was going to go out of play and bounce back, then go from sweeping his team's rock to stopping the rebounding rock in a time and space of less than a second and less than two or three total feet seems a trifle unfair.
Sometimes things happen at high speed, even in curling and decisions are made in that flash of a moment without the benefit of hindsight, something that so many seem to form their opinions around.
The takeaway might just be that on some calls, like so many other sports, curling needs objective, independent judges to make those dicey determinations. Burn a rock by imperceptibly (to everyone but you) touching it? Absolutely you need to put your hand up and call "I burned it." Glance at a replay and see that an opponent did in fact let go of a stone before they reached the hog line despite what the flashing lights on the rock indicate? Let them shoot it again, certainly.
In situations like the one we saw at the World Men's Curling Championship, it might just be best to remove the decision from the players and allow an official - with the benefit of replay - to make a call.
It's another thing the World Curling Federation might consider as it gathers, this summer, to deal with the ongoing saga of broom heads.
If you hate the idea of taking decisions like these away from players, that's fair.
We can leave it the way it is. We should, however, be prepared to give those players the benefit of doubt when it comes to their character and responses in those tricky situations.