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MCA Bonspiel to carry on in 2014

Curling officials feel support is out there

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THERE will be an MCA Bonspiel in 2014, but the form, size and even who will play in the annual Winnipeg winter tradition are all still very much in the air.

Curl Manitoba president Resby Coutts said six weeks of consultations with Winnipeg-area curling clubs has convinced him there remains a desire to continue playing what is annually the world's biggest curling bonspiel.

"The message is that we will go forward. There is a clear desire on the part of the curling clubs for the bonspiel to continue," Coutts said Friday. "But what it's all going to look like next year, I really have no idea. We have a bunch of decisions to make in a really short time."

In a letter last month to all the curling clubs in Winnipeg and the surrounding area, Coutts called for a complete rethinking of an event that has seen entries decline almost uninterrupted since 2003. Coutts laid out a number of options for club executives to consider, including scrapping the bonspiel entirely.

The possibility that a winter tradition that just celebrated its 125th anniversary was in jeopardy struck a nerve, said Coutts. He said he received lots of critical email, with some suggesting there was no reason to panic about an event that has still attracted over 350 teams in recent years -- and almost 450 this year -- but which nevertheless has lost roughly one-third of entries in the past decade.

Coutts said he was pleased to see -- and hear -- the passion curlers and organizers continue to have for the bonspiel, but he noted while he's heard lots of opinions, there remains a shortage of people actually willing to get involved.

An open invitation Coutts extended to Winnipeg-area club executives to attend a meeting at Curl Manitoba headquarters on Thursday night to discuss the future of the bonspiel attracted just 11 people representing just five clubs, one-quarter of the total.

"I'd be a lot happier," said Coutts, "if I could tell you there were 45 people there and half of them were mad as hell and yelling at me and the other half were mad as hell and yelling at them. I'd have loved that. But instead, to a large extent, it was the same folks that we usually talk with."

Coutts said there were some fresh ideas offered, however, including from one woman who pointed out that if Curl Manitoba goes forward with an idea to accept entries next year from female curlers for the first time, it needs to make clear to the province's women it is genuine in its intention to make an exclusively male institution more inclusive.

"It was pointed out that we can't just say we are 'allowing' women to curl in the bonspiel," said Coutts. "We've got to get it across that we're 'welcoming' women to curl in it."

Coutts said he's not entirely sure what to make of the poor turnout to discuss the future of an event curlers say they're committed to saving.

"I don't know how to interpret the response," said Coutts. "On the one hand, I think it shows how much work is still to be done to develop or improve or fix -- I'm not sure what the right word is -- Curl Manitoba's relationship with the clubs.

"And on the other side, maybe it's an indication people still don't think there's a problem."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 2, 2013 C6

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