Red devil in the details

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:16 PM ET

It’s about that Russian plan to poach some of our young curlers and try to buy an Olympic medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics.

The whole thing smells like a bad bowl of borscht.

A very lucrative bowl for the local guys, mind you.

Word is Winnipegger Jason Gunnlaugson, 25, and two of his teammates, Justin Richter and Tyler Forrest, are to earn $100,000 US each per year, plus expenses, throwing rocks with two Russian players, under the Russian flag, for the next four years.

The plan is to have the boys spend the bare minimum of time living in Moscow each year — two months does it, apparently — in order to become Russian citizens and obtain passports.

They’ll spend the rest of the time in Canada, competing on the World Curling Tour, at World Championships and, if all goes according to plan, at the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia — trying to knock off the Canadians.

Oh, and they’re to help grow the game in Russia, too.

You can’t blame Gunnlaugson and Co. — who wouldn’t want to curl for that kind of money? If the deal goes through, they’ll instantly become Canada’s highest-paid curlers.

“It’s an unbelievable opportunity for those guys,” Alberta veteran Randy Ferbey said from Edmonton, Thursday. “They’re young. How many people in this country get paid to curl?”

But Ferbey can’t help but wonder, too, if there’s a Russian devil in the details.

If the Russians, who had an overall disastrous showing in Vancouver, are that determined to become better curlers, why did they go after Gunnlaugson, and not one of this country’s top skips? Or a veteran teacher?

“How this helps Russian curling, I have no idea,” Ferbey said. “No offence to Jason, but they’re a little raw. They don’t know how to develop programs. There’s a lot of curlers in Canada that could do that. So something’s funny that way.”

I think it’s obvious. The Russians, like the Chinese before them, don’t give two hoots about developing the sport — they just want to bolster their medal count by creating one, world-class team. Convince a grumbling populace that the Russian government knows what it’s doing in the athletic department, if nowhere else.

I doubt they’re going to succeed.

Again, you can’t blame the Manitobans for biting.

But it sounds like they’re being used by a country that doesn’t really know what it’s doing, yanked through loopholes in the IOC rules that only ask for a passport, and not real heritage, to determine national identity.

Who hands out passports? The same governments that are trying to win medals.

But since when can you use ringers from other countries?

Imagine if it happened in reverse — the Canadian government making it ridiculously easy for, say, Bulgarian weightlifters to compete as Canucks, then recruiting a few and pushing aside our own aspiring Olympians in the process.

We’d scream bloody murder.

“You start getting that kind of interloping between countries, everything can get out of whack pretty quick,” the Canadian Curling Association’s Warren Hansen said.

Interestingly, the whole idea of player poaching actually started within Canada, as top skips like Jeff Stoughton and Brad Gushue have recruited players from other provinces to compete in provincial playdowns and Briers.

“It’s no different than Kevin Park coming to play for Manitoba,” Les Harrison, former World Curling Federation president, said. “This is the international scale. So it’s hard to chastise when we do it within Canada.”

Yeah, but paying players to ditch their flag?

I can see it now, a proud Winnipegger on top of the podium, singing the Russian national anthem.

Nyet.


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