A three-ring circus

TED WYMAN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 9:41 AM ET

PAISLEY, Scotland -- You can hear the whispers, perhaps see it in some of the curlers' eyes.

There's an underlying current of disbelief at just how far the state of women's curling on the world stage has fallen since an unceremonious split from the men's world championship this year.

When curlers pull their feet out of the softer-than-Haagen Daas ice to look around at the Lagoon Leisure Centre, a lip reader can make out the words that go along with the looks of incredulity: "This is the world championship?"

To those who follow curling closely, it would be awfully hard to tell. To an untrained observer, it would be downright impossible.

From the 850-seat arena, complete with swimming pool for all-you-can-use humidity, to the lack of time clocks (which led to major controversy yesterday), to an undermanned ice-making crew, to constantly-changing ice conditions, to the puny ghetto blaster playing Air Supply in the tiny pub tent, it's a dirty laundry list of disrespect for the women's game.

Get this: We're in Scotland and they don't even have a bagpipe player to lead the curlers onto the melted ice before games. The look on stoic lawyer Jennifer Jones' face when her Canadian team entered the arena to Shania Twain's Man, I Feel Like a Woman was something to behold.

When the World Curling Federation first announced there would be a split, people knew the women's portion would be a tough sell (six-time Canadian Colleen Jones said they would have to curl naked). In Paisley's defence, the host committee here is the first to find that out first-hand.

But the empty seats -- there were 71 fans in the building at the start of last night's draw -- the ice problems and the event's overall lack of professionalism have to leave some curlers, many of them Olympians, feeling somewhat blue.

"We are fairly disappointed so far, and you get a little worried about the splitting between the men's and the women's and if they actually have done what they can for us," said Swedish skip Anette Norberg. "... And if they would have done the same if the men were here."

Bottom line is, this is truly a non-event. People in Paisley are aware of its existence, but few would cross the cobbled street to watch a game.

And one has to wonder what made the WCF want to hold a championship here, other than the fact that there is a dedicated group of volunteers and Scotland has a rich curling history.

If you are pondering the possibility that women's curling has been hung out to dry, you are not the only one.

"At least you are thinking about (that)," said Norberg, who is making her seventh appearance at the worlds.

"It's quite bad actually. I think it's not all just ice. I think the stones are not good either. We have played with them before (at the European championship), and I feel sorry for the U.S. and Canada because they haven't."

Perhaps the biggest blunder is the lack of time clocks, which led to Russia being called for a timing violation last night and gave Canada four free points in what turned out to be a 9-8 win.

"Sometimes it feels like a bit of a gong show out there," Canada's Cathy Gauthier said. "We are striving to put curling up there in the IOC's opinion and time clocks are part of the rules. To not have them here and have something like that happen is wrong."

That's where Gauthier said the magic words. Curling is an Olympic sport, and this event is coming off more like a three-ring circus.

What the players here this week have to worry about now is what the curling future holds for women.

And that nagging notion in the back of their minds that they deserve better.


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