No more major hurdles

JIM BENDER -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 11:43 AM ET

VANCOUVER -- The dawn of an exciting new curling era could soon be upon us. That\'s assuming, of course, that the two battling factions will finally lay down their swords and pick up their brushes together.

For quite some time now, there have been indications that the Canadian Curling Association and IMG/World Curling Players\' Association\'s controversial Grand Slam are on the verge of thankfully reaching a peace accord. In fact, the final touches to their side of what should be an impending agreement are expected to be completed at the CCA\'s congress in Mt. Tremblant, Que., this weekend. But don\'t expect the two sides to make an immediate announcement to trumpet the deal. In fact, neither WCPA president Paul Boutilier nor World Curling Tour executive director Chad McMullan will be there -- although a WCPA rep will be around to answer any CCA questions, McMullan said recently.

Meanwhile, the WCPA -- which had asked teams to boycott Brier playdowns to get the lucrative Slam out of the hack -- has been scheduling Slam spiels to avoid conflicting with CCA-run events. It has even sanctioned the Canada Cup, allowing Slam squads to enter Cup qualifiers this season.

Sure, the WCPA had been holding out in hopes of getting Olympic trials spots awarded to its championships but will have to bite the bullet there. The CCA, which had worked hard to obtain Olympic status for the sport, has awarded those berths to non-Slam events, which was its right. But those include the Canada Cup and a special Olympic qualifier event open to all. And the CCA has changed the qualification process for the Canada Cup to make it more attractive to the Slam-type teams that prefer to compete in higher-stakes cashspiels -- to the chagrin of the Manitoba Curling Tour.

The CCA has also been experimenting with allowing sponsors\' crests at the Canada Cup, which had been the major bone of contention in the players\' rebellion.

The bottom line is that there are no more major roadblocks in the negotiations.

CAUTIOUSLY OPTIMISTIC

\"We\'re cautiously optimistic,\" McMullan said, adding that there could still be some fine-tuning should the CCA give its approval this weekend.

\"We\'re all hoping to get it resolved,\" local CCA director Barry Greenberg, who is attending the congress, said at the Manitoba Curling Association\'s recent AGM.

So, it seems that only mere stubbornness on one side or the other will keep this deal from getting done. And if it does get done, just look at what\'s in store for rabid curling fans with all of the top teams eligible to compete in most of the events. There will be four Grand Slam events, including one in Brandon; the Continental Cup; the Canada Cup and all of its qualifying events; the Nokia Brier and the 2005 Olympic trials.

And let\'s not forget the TSN Skins Game, to be held in Gimli. Sources also say that the reported Randy Ferbey-Kevin Martin showdown in Calgary come November will officially be announced within a week or so. And we haven\'t even touched on the women\'s side. WTSN is even expected to be back on board to televise some of the women\'s tour events this season.

With all of the top men\'s teams back battling each other on the ice in top-level events, Canadian curling can only get even better.

Then again, if the two sides cannot agree, the game\'s latest roaring events will likely wither to a whisper and all of those involved -- the CCA and the WCPA -- will only have themselves to blame.


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