Ontario, Manitoba cancel playdowns for Scotties, Brier

Ontario and Manitoba have cancelled playdowns for the women’s and men’s national curling championships because of on-going health concerns and restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It means the 2019 provincial champions will represent the provinces at the Scotties and Briers, scheduled to be played in Calgary in February and March.

Rachel Homan and John Epping will represent Ontario at their respective tournaments, while Jennifer Jones and Jason Gunnlaugson will play for Manitoba. The curling federations for each province made the announcements Monday.

“It’s pretty clear that playing curling competitions, not in a bubble, is not working well. We cannot wait to get back and doing what we love to do,” Gunnlaugson told CBC Sports. “It’s been a tough time for everybody and everything curling.”

Jones gets the Manitoba spot after finishing runner-up to last year’s provincial champion, Kerri Einarson. Einarson, who won this year’s Scotties in February, will be at the event as Team Canada. Jones will be making her 16th appearance.

CurlON, the provincial sport governing body, said in a statement it made its decision after determining putting on a provincial championship was not practical amid the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions.

“We all hope to be curling again in 2021 at some point but the reality is COVID-19 has caused many clubs and boards, including CurlON, to re-evaluate their programs and make some very tough decisions for the health of their members and communities,” the press release said. 

In early December the Northern Ontario Curling Association made the same decision, giving Brad Jacobs and Krista McCarville automatic entries into the Brier and Scotties.

Jacobs accepted the invitation, McCarville did not. Krysta Burns, last year’s runner-up at the provincial playdowns, will replace McCarville.

It’s expected more provinces will also cancel playdowns and select their representatives based on last year’s results. 

Six events are scheduled to take place inside the Calgary curling bubble starting in mid-February and stretching into April. All games will be played inside the Markin McPhail Arena at Canada Olympic Park.

There are strict restrictions for curlers living in the bubble, including staying solely inside the host hotel and the arena. Athletes are unable to have any family members inside the bubble throughout the entire competition to ensure the safest environment possible.

The Scotties will kick off the curling extravaganza starting Feb. 19, followed by the Brier in early March, then the mixed doubles national championship. 

That leads into the men’s world championship followed finally by two Slam events. Curlers are being asked to show up at least three days before each competition.

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