Curling fans missing in action

The round-robin competition at the world women’s curling championship had everything a fan could ask for.

GANGNEUNG, South Korea — The round-robin competition at the world women’s curling championship had everything a fan could ask for.

Too bad nobody bothered to show up.

The marquee event on the women’s curling calendar featured plenty of great shots and thrilling finishes, but was an enormous flop from an attendance standpoint. Through 14 draws Wednesday, only 34 tickets had been sold — 22 for the opening two draws alone. Thousands of tickets were given away to schools and businesses, but that didn’t help bolster crowds that often lingered around 100 fans per draw.

Billed as a chance to introduce the sport to South Korea, the event drew gatherings so small that conversations between players could clearly be heard from every corner of the 3,500-seat Gangneung International Ice Rink.

“It’s great to be here, because the country is nice and the people are nice,” said Denmark’s Madeleine Dupont. “But I would have loved to see more (fans).”

Naturally, games involving the host South Koreans drew the largest crowds — but even then, the majority of fans were local schoolchildren brought in for class trips. They were noisy during the playing of the national anthems, they cheered at bizarre times during the game and they were often out of the building before the eighth end.

Fans who did show up clearly had a lot to learn about curling etiquette — one group banged inflatable Thunderstix in delight every time a German player made a mistake against the South Korean team, skipped by Mi-Yeon Kim.

While curling has taken hold in other Asian countries like China and Japan — both of whom will play in next year’s Winter Games in Vancouver — the sport is still in its infancy in Korea. The program has only been around since 1994, and this is just the second time the South Koreans have taken part in a world championship.

It didn’t help that locals had other sporting events to watch this week. Many people stayed home to track South Korea’s progress in the World Baseball Classic, and one draw conflicted with a Korean League soccer game between Gangwon FC and Busan I Park, held at a stadium just 200 metres from the arena.

More than 20,000 people showed up for the soccer game. Less than 4,000 made their way to the Gangneung International Ice Rink for the entire round robin.

Organizers aren’t bothered by the low attendance figures at the world championship. They contend that their main focus is on growing the sport gradually in South Korea, and on running a smooth event in hopes of bolstering Peyongchang’s 2018 Olympic bid.

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