Sportsnet is trimming its six-stop Grand Slam of Curling circuit to just two events next season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The network, which owns and operates the top-flight curling series, said Wednesday that three Canadian stops will not be held this fall as scheduled. The circuit’s American debut in January was also scrubbed.
Instead the first Grand Slam of the campaign won’t come until the April 13-18 Players’ Championship in Toronto, followed by the season finale two weeks later at the April 27-May 2 Champions Cup in Olds, Alta.
“The safety and wellbeing of curlers, volunteers, fans, partners and employees is of the utmost importance to Sportsnet,” Rob Corte, vice-president of Sportsnet and NHL Production, said in a release.
“Following careful thought and deliberation, we made the decision to postpone the season until we could safely deliver the world-class competition and intimate fan experience the Grand Slam series is known for.”
The 2020-21 schedule was originally set to kick off at the Oct. 20-25 Masters in Sarnia, Ont. The Tour Challenge was to be held Nov. 3-8 in Grande Prairie, Alta., and the Dec. 8-13 National was set for Chestermere, Alta.
Those three cities will host the same Slam events in the 2021-22 season, Sportsnet said, with the Tour Challenge to open the campaign in late September 2021. The Masters will follow a month later and the National will be played in November 2021.
Plans for the Meridian Open, originally set for Jan. 12-17, 2021, in Las Vegas, have yet to be determined. The second half of the 2021-22 Slam calendar will be released at a later date.
Sportsnet said it “remains committed to growing the sport of curling outside of Canada” and will continue to work closely with local organizers in the Nevada city to reschedule the competition.
Corte said there were some discussions about the possibility of holding Grand Slam events without spectators, but the idea did not gain traction.
“We talked about that but for us, we want to maintain the world-class competition and that intimate fan experience that the Grand Slam of Curling represents,” he said in an interview. “With all of the COVID precautions that you’d have to put in place, you’re just not able to deliver that event experience.”
The news is a blow to top curling teams in Canada and around the globe as Grand Slam stops are the pearls of the World Curling Tour calendar. A total of $2.1 million in prize money is normally available each season on the Slam circuit.
“I’m certainly disappointed that they’re not going (ahead),” skip Brad Gushue said from St. John’s, N.L. “Those are for me personally my favourite events to play in. I know a lot of players feel the same way.”
Details on next year’s purses and updated team points will be confirmed at a later date, Sportsnet said.
The pandemic hit in mid-March, just days after the completion of the Tim Hortons Brier in Kingston, Ont. Remaining events on the 2019-20 curling calendar, including the men’s and women’s world championships and two Grand Slam stops, were cancelled.
“The local organizing committees as well as our sponsors, they all understand,” Corte said of next season’s changes. “The situation that we’re in with this pandemic is so unique, nobody is willing to take a chance with people’s health.
“So everybody is in unison here and knows that this is the right decision.”
Several early-season events on the World Curling Tour have already been cancelled or postponed, including the Shorty Jenkins Classic in September and the Canad Inns Men’s Classic in October.
The 2020-21 Season of Champions calendar is scheduled to begin with the Nov. 24-29 Canada Cup in Fredericton, N.B.
Sportsnet had just announced last February that a Grand Slam would be held outside of Canada for the first time since the series made its debut in 2001-02.
Las Vegas is no stranger to curling. Sin City was home to four of the last seven editions of the Continental Cup and served as host of the 2018 world men’s curling championship.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 8, 2020.
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press