Logic lost out to loot

TED WYMAN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:24 AM ET

ST. JOHN'S, Nfld. -- The way Cathy Gauthier sees it, the Canadian Curling Association is getting exactly what it deserves for chasing the money and awarding a sporting event to a news channel.

"It's not a surprise to me at all because the CBC's mandate is news," Gauthier said yesterday when asked to weigh in on the recent furor over curling's new television deal.

"(The Sports Network), Sportsnet, any of the other networks, their only job is sports. If the game goes 27 ends, they can stay with it and if it ends early, they can jump to golf. The CBC can't. That was one of the considerations that all the curlers thought about. And I'm just not sure if the CCA did."

Gauthier is here as the lead for Manitoba's Jennifer Jones at the Scott Tournament of Hearts, but for the last few years she established herself as a fine curling commentator, working on Global in Winnipeg and at TSN.

It could be said she has her own agenda on this matter, since the move of curling on television from a TSN-CBC combination to CBC and its affiliates put her out of a job. But her words speak to what many Canadians have been thinking since the new deal was announced.

"This is a great network, but they have some realities and I think there are going to be more issues," Gauthier said.

"There are things that will always draw CBC away. If there is a big international incident, CBC is always going to dump curling and go to that. For the people that voted to go with this because of money, I understand that's important. But there are things beyond money."

Since the Scott Tournament of Hearts started last Saturday, the CCA, title sponsor Scott Paper and the CBC have been inundated with phone calls and e-mails from angry viewers who can't get or can't find evening games on television.

It's been enough to bring down websites, convince executives to shut off cellphones and create a general feeling of unease among those who are committed to growing the sport of curling.

The general feeling is somebody underestimated the passion people across the country have for the game and that was expressed yesterday by none other than six-time Canadian women's champion Colleen Jones, who also happens to be a broadcaster on CBC Newsworld.

"I think a lot of television executives don't understand the passion people have for this game," Jones said. "They want it, when they want it. it's an addiction for them, they absolutely love it."

Jones, obviously being careful because of her position with the network, believes the issue is not about the actual coverage, or even the exposure of the game -- ratings are way up over last year in some draws -- but about the fact that people are annoyed that there is less curling readily available in their living rooms.

"There would be no debate about this if (the draws) were on CBC in the afternoon and in prime time," Jones said. "People would love the coverage."

Many people are worried about the impact the new TV deal will have on the future of curling, especially considering most people under the age of 18 are being shut out during the week.

"One of the considerations of the curling association has to the juniors, it has to be the grassroots," Gauthier said.

"But part of that is young kids being able to watch curling. If you can't watch curling at night on a station you can readily get, then you are losing a great opportunity. Kids are in school and they're not watching curling in the afternoon. If they can't get it in their living room at night then we are losing a huge market, and that's a shame."


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