Pass the hat, boys

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:58 AM ET

It's the final Grand Slam event of the curling season, $200,000 in prize money and valuable Olympic Trials points up for grabs.

But don't be surprised if the subject of taxes dominates the off-ice discussion at the Players Championship in St. John's, Nfld., later this week.

Specifically, the Wayne Middaugh tax ruling, which has curlers buzzing about the possibilities of their own future brush with the tax man.

There's even the possibility the best players in the game will pass the hat to help Middaugh fight a ruling ordering him to pay back taxes on his winnings.

"There's a rumour about that happening," Winnipeg's Reid Carruthers was saying yesterday. "Guys were talking about possibly pooling together. We were all sitting around together, and thought it would be a good idea to do."

The discussion happened at the recent Bear Mountain Classic in Victoria, and Carruthers is all for it.

As the skip of one of the best young teams in the game -- he's up for the rookie team-of-the-year award this week -- Carruthers represents the future of the sport.

But it's a future wrought with uncertainty, now that the tax man is in the house.

The Canada Revenue Agency is ordering Middaugh to pay more than $50,000 in back taxes, and it's threatening to go after his assets, including his house.

Middaugh has lost all his appeals, leaving an expensive court case as his last option.

"I have no problem with the way the government sets up taxes," Carruthers said. "For the guys that put as much effort into the game and don't see much income for what they do, I'd like to support their cause."

He's not alone, either.

"If it helps the cause, then I can't see why not," Jeff Stoughton, also on his way to The Rock this week, said. "I can't see any of the players having difficult with that."

The issue here is fairness.

'10 GRAND IN THE HOLE'

If the government can go after Middaugh or Stoughton or Kevin Martin for their winnings, then every player that competes on the world tour should be able to claim expenses. And those who lose money should be able to write that off against their other income.

Just like a pro golfer.

"There are maybe 10 teams that actually make money curling," Carruthers said. "My team is ranked 15th in the world, and we've spent $50,000 on curling this year. And through sponsorship, which we're very fortunate to have, and prize winnings (approximately $22,000) we're still at least 10 grand in the hole. That comes out of our pockets."

So any additional taxes the government could squeeze from the money-winning teams would be more than erased by the writeoffs of all the rest.

That's believed to be the reason the government hasn't pursued curling winnings in the past.

The Middaugh ruling has changed everything.

"If one or two get hit, then everyone's going to be claiming and trying to make deductions," Carruthers predicted. "We're going to strongly consider keeping track of all our expenses. Because if they ever do come knocking on our door then I'm going to want to claim some of those things.

"I don't know how they're going to pick who they tax, but I'm going to be prepared for it."

When he's not curling, Carruthers is a student at the U of W. You don't think he'd welcome a chance to write off some of the travel costs he rings up by curling every winter weekend?

This thing has major implications. Stoughton and Kerry Burtnyk said last week that if the tax man goes after all winnings, it would kill competitive curling.

It could certainly kill the tour, where all the best teams hone their games.

So by all means, pass the hat, boys.

But be warned: this could make a last rock, double angle-raise takeout look like child's play.


Photos