Curling girds for war

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 6:44 AM ET

Hosting a world championship, in any sport, presents its challenges. Anytime you roll out the welcome mat for athletes from around the globe, you\'re going to deal with some logistical problems.

But planning for a war?

You can bet that wasn\'t on the list of \"things to do\" when members of the host committee for next months\' world curling championship first got together.

However, with the U.S. seemingly on the verge of attacking Iraq, that\'s exactly what local organizers are dealing with, as they begin final preparations for the April 5-13 event.

\"We\'ve got our fingers crossed,\" host committee president Zivan Saper told The Sun. \"Maybe they\'ll wait until we\'re done.\"

If they don\'t, and Winnipeg ends up welcoming the world during a war, the event stands to be affected on two fronts: security, particularly at the Arena, and travel plans for the teams involved.

PRECAUTIONS

Organizers have already met with the Winnipeg Police Service about taking extra security precautions. Most won\'t be visible to spectators and, for obvious reasons, they\'ll remain confidential. But that doesn\'t mean fans won\'t notice anything.

\"One of (the steps), obviously, is limiting what people can bring into the facility, and having the belongings they\'re carrying checked,\" Saper said.

Now, you might wonder why we should worry about security here when the war is in Iraq.

\"We don\'t want people to be alarmed,\" Saper said. \"(But) because this is an international event is what might make it appealing (for terrorists).\"

Now, organizers certainly didn\'t budget for wartime security. Under normal circumstances, security would be handled by a volunteer corps of active and retired police officers. If that needs to be stepped up, Saper is hopeful the city will cover the additional cost.

\"We haven\'t got to that stage, yet,\" he said. \"It\'s not like we\'re phoning them to break up a ruckus. If the alert is there, I would think they\'d want to be there. They\'re protecting their citizens, as well.\"

Coincidentally, the last time Winnipeg hosted the world curling championship was 1991 -- the year of the first Gulf War.

That conflict was over by the time the bonspiel began. This time, however, the bombs and rocks could be flying at precisely the same time.

A dozen different countries are sending teams here, some as early as April 1st. Athletes -- maybe some fans, too -- will be arriving from the U.S., Denmark, Finland, Germany, Sweden, Korea (South), Norway, Switzerland, Scotland, Italy, Japan and Russia.

At least, that\'s the plan.

Travellers everywhere will certainly be leery about getting into an airplane during a war, and while curlers may be a dedicated bunch, you can bet they\'ll be no different.

So far, there\'s been no mention of anybody pulling out.

\"I just hope they don\'t close the borders,\" Saper said.

He may have been kidding a little on that one. Then again, who knows?

\"We just hope all the teams get here,\" he said. \"I think we should be OK.\"

BACK ON TOP: After falling like a stone the last two years, TV ratings for last Sunday\'s Brier final shot up to a record high.

The average CBC viewing audience of 1.46 million for Randy Ferbey and Team Alberta\'s win over Nova Scotia was double the number of people who watched last year\'s final, and the highest rating since the current system of measuring TV audiences was adopted in 1989.

The results reverse a trend that saw viewership decline from about 1.3 million in 2000 to just 770,000 in \'02.

By comparison, CBC\'s Hockey Night in Canada has averaged some 1.3 million this season.

Obviously, a Brier with some big names in it (Ferbey, Guy Hemmings, Pat Ryan) can still be a major attraction.

Playing the final in prime time didn\'t hurt, either, and you can bet that idea is here to stay.


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