The Scotties Tournament of Hearts has received the go-ahead to proceed in Thunder Bay, Ont., later this month, but the plan for tickets to the national women's curling championship is still up in the air.
Curling Canada announced Thursday it has received approval from provincial health authorities to hold the competition in the northwestern Ontario city.
The event is slated to run Jan. 28 through Feb. 6 at Fort William Gardens.
"With the advancement of the new Omicron variant, we wanted to ensure Curling Canada set up the most effective health protocols possible to keep all participants at the 2022 Scotties Tournament of Hearts safe," said Curling Canada's chief executive officer, Katherine Henderson, in a media release Thursday.
According to the organization, part of the framework includes no fans or media inside Fort William Gardens, and only allowing entrance to players, coaches, officials, and essential operational staff and volunteers.
Modified ticket plan possible
Under Ontario regulations in effect until Jan. 26, spectators are not allowed at sporting events and other large public gatherings.
However, the province on Thursday outlined the process of gradually easing restrictions in several settings, beginning Jan. 31, possibly affecting the national curling tournament.
Under the new restrictions, spectator areas of facilities, including for sports events, can operate at 50 per cent seated capacity or 500 people, whichever is less.
"In response to the province of Ontario's announcement that 500 fans will be permitted in sports venues starting Jan. 31, Curling Canada will initiate communication with stakeholders about the possibility of a modified ticket plan for the final three days of the event," reads the Curling Canada release.
The organization added it is "erring on the side of caution and will not admit fans into the building during the round robin even though public health guidelines allow it."
Ticket sales 'phenomenal'
Thunder Bay last hosted the Scotties championship in 1996. The city was supposed to host the 2021 tourney, but Curling Canada relocated its national events to Calgary due to the pandemic. The team from Manitoba that is skipped by Kerri Einarson won their second consecutive title and will return as Team Canada.
Curling Canada said it will contact people who now hold tickets and provide a refund in full for the 2022 Scotties.
"Our ticket sales were phenomenal. We were going to fill the place, so it was very exciting, and now it's of course disappointing we're not able to have people in the building," Lang said in an interview with CBC News Wednesday.
"I think it bodes well for another one in the future."
Lang, who was in Calgary for last year's Tim Horton's Brier, the men's curling championship won by the Alberta rink skipped by Brendan Bottcher, said the bubble creates a much different atmosphere.
"It's so disappointing for them," he said.
"I think it shows well on TV and the games are still super meaningful, and the players will be playing their hearts out because there's a lot to be won and a lot of them want to do their best obviously. But it's hard for them because where they look forward to packed arenas, it's going to be empty now. "
Curling Canada announced last week the field for the event will be expanded to 18 teams, with three wild-card squads.
Several provincial qualifying events, including for the host northern Ontario team, have been cancelled during the past month due to the COVID-19 Omicron surge.
The organization on Thursday broke down how the event will feature 18 teams split into two pools of nine, seeded based on their final standing on the Canadian Team Ranking System (CTRS) as of Jan. 10.