Major facelift ahead?

TED WYMAN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:07 AM ET

The consensus among curlers and curling executives is the MCA Bonspiel will continue to be a deeply respected tradition in this province for years to come.

How closely it will resemble the current event is anybody's guess.

"Can I ever envision a time when there is no MCA Bonspiel? No," MCA executive director Ian Staniloff said yesterday. "But I can see the possibility of, at some point in time, it being a much different event than we are seeing today."

As the 118th annual bonspiel winds down this week, many participants are wondering about the future of the world's largest curling tournament, especially given recent trends toward change.

This year's event is the smallest in decades, most of the rural teams have been scared off, and what was once one of the biggest alcohol-fuelled parties of the year in Manitoba has been toned down considerably.

Most people involved believe the bonspiel will continue to evolve into something that barely resembles the event their forefathers played in.

Some want to see it shortened, split into divisions of competitive and recreational curlers, reduced in size or even made into strictly a berth bonspiel for the Safeway Select.

"I could see it ending on Sunday night and having a rec side and a competitive side," said Valour Road's Vic Peters, a three-time provincial men's champion. "But I think in our lifetime there will always be something like this."

Peters said the length of the bonspiel, which runs from Thursday to Wednesday to ensure each of the 441 teams gets at least eight games, is a big issue.

"Probably it needs to be shortened down a bit," he said. "If it got slimmed down to a Sunday night ending, that might bring a lot of people back."

Gary Ross, who has played in more than 40 MCA Bonspiels in his 66 years of life, would never want to see it become just a berth bonspiel or feature a recreational component.

"I can't believe that would happen," he said. "All sports have little lulls here and there, but it's still pretty strong. There are a lot of guys that come in and want to play against a good rink."

There were dozens of defaults yesterday by teams that were knocked out of the main events and were no longer in the hunt for the five Safeway Select berths, which would support the theory that the spiel should be shortened.

"I've often made the comment that I don't know why everybody goes in it, because it's just an endurance test and the fun goes out of it," Ross said. "It's a long spiel, and I think people have changed. Years ago it was a drinking spiel, and it's not a drinking spiel anymore."

After coming up well short on their limit of 512 teams in 2005, the MCA reduced the ceiling to 448 teams this year. They came up seven entries short after imposing a rigid deadline for submissions.

"If I were a guessing person, I would say there will be 448 next year," Staniloff said.

One big change that could eventually come to fruition would involve who actually operates the bonspiel.

There have been suggestions that the MCA doesn't want to be in the bonspiel business much longer.

"That's a good question," Staniloff said. "Maybe the clubs have to get more involved. ... It's their curlers that we are trying to satisfy. Getting us out of the bonspiel business might be something we will look at down the road."

To that end, the MCA has already made a proposal to the city clubs that would see them take over the Safeway Select city zones.

"It's the very first step," Staniloff said.

Whatever happens in the future, it will not be so much decided by the MCA but by the curlers themselves. Their participation or non-participation in events like the bonspiel will dictate the direction planners take.

As for now, the event is still something to be celebrated, even if it is a century-old work in progress.

"There still is an interest. ... It's still the world's largest single-event bonspiel by far," Staniloff said. "It's still a unique historical event, and we'd like to maintain that."


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