Women’s world curling championship in Canada wiped out by COVID-19

The women’s world curling championship in Prince George, B.C., joined the expanding list of COVID-19 cancellations in the sports world Thursday.

The 13-country championship was scheduled to start Saturday at the CN centre.

All three major winter sport world championships Canada was to host in March have now been scrapped because of concerns over the spread of the novel coronavirus, now called a pandemic by the World Health Organization.

“I am absolutely confident that we’ve made, collectively with our partners at the (World Curling Federation), that the right decisions have been made,” Curling Canada chief executive officer Katherine Henderson said.

Henderson said the idea to have the women’s championships closed to the public was considered, but scrapped due to the rising risk of infection in the community.

“We wanted to take as little risk as humanly possible at this point,” she said. “I think indefinitely postponing or cancelling the event was just the smartest thing to do.”

The world women’s hockey championship in Nova Scotia was called off Saturday and the world figure skating championships in Montreal were taken off the schedule Wednesday.

“It’s with regret we’re announcing it is no longer possible to run this world championship,” World Curling Federation president Kate Caithness said in a statement Thursday.

“However, the safety of our athletes, officials, staff and supporters is paramount which we cannot guarantee with the fast-evolving nature of this worldwide situation.”

B.C.’s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and minister of health Adrian Dix confirmed in a joint statement they recommended to the WCF that the women’s tournament be postponed.

“We understand what the championship means to the athletes who have trained hard to compete, but the health of British Columbians is our first priority,” the statement said.

Kerri Einarson’s women’s curling team from Manitoba was to represent Canada in Prince George.

Einarson, vice Val Sweeting and front end Shannon Birchard and Briane Meilleur out of the Gimli Curling Club won the national championship Feb. 23 in Moose Jaw.

Einarson, Sweeting and Meilleur would have played in their first world championship.

“Team Canada is extremely disappointed with the news that the 2020 women’s world curling championship has been cancelled,” the team said in a statement posted on its Twitter account.

“We respect the decision made today and understand that the health and safety of all is the most important thing.

“While we were really looking forward to wearing the Maple Leaf in Canada, our thoughts go out to those affected by the virus, our thanks go to all those who have supported Team Canada/Einarson and the event including sponsors, volunteers, officials fans, the people of Prince George, the World Curling Federation and Curling Canada.”

The national mixed doubles and seniors curling championships were scheduled later this month in Portage la Prairie, Man., and the national wheelchair championship next month in Boucherville, Que., also were postponed on Thursday.

A decision has yet to be made on the men’s world championship March 28 to April 5 in Glasgow, Scotland or April’s world mixed doubles and senior championships in Kelowna, B.C.

But Brad Gushue was not at all confident his team will represent Canada in Glasgow.

Gushue, third Mark Nichols and front end Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker won the Canadian championship last Sunday in Kingston, Ont.

“My gut is probably telling me it’s not going to go,” the skip told The Canadian Press from St. John’s, N.L.

“We’ve just seen a report in Scotland they’re advising events over 500 people to cancel. That’s straight from their government which doesn’t seem like a very good sign. It doesn’t look promising.”

This year’s Tim Hortons Brier field in Kingston, Ont., was touted as the best ever, which made winning it feel like a Herculean effort.

“As difficult as it is to get the chance to represent Canada at a world curling championship, to have it taken away from you by an anomaly, a crazy generational kind of event, it just seems like all the good luck you had to win the Brier kind of went away,” Gushue said.

His foursome won a world title in 2017 in Edmonton and earned silver the following year in Las Vegas. The men were going to compete for a world title in Europe for the first time.

“You’ve got to respect if they’re making the decision to cancel, that it’s warranted and it’s in everybody’s best interest and safety,” Gushue said. “You certainly appreciate that and are thankful for it, but it still doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck.”

This year’s world championships are part of Olympic qualification for 2022.

Ten men’s teams and 10 women’s squads will compete in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. China is guaranteed a berth as the host country.

Points generated from the 2020 and 2021 world championships were to determine which seven countries join the men’s and women’s fields.

The final two countries for each gender will be determined in an Olympic qualification tournament in 2021.

The number of championships and games wiped out by COVID-19 accelerated Thursday.

The NHL joined the NBA Thursday in suspending the regular season, with minor pro leagues and the Western, Ontario and Quebec major junior leagues following suit.

Major League Baseball cancelled spring training and delayed the start of the regular season by two weeks.

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