In Defense of Curling

March 1, 2010
By | 3 Comments

The jokes about curling are plentiful, always bubbling up at the Winter Olympics. Here’s Dave Letterman with a few:

Many of the complaints about the sport can be summed up by two key points: (1) It’s said to be boring; and (2) Most of its competitors don’t “look” like athletes, nor do its fans seem like regular fans. Let’s examine each.

To say the sport is boring is odd, since almost every sport is boring. Or, rather, almost every other sport is no less boring. Baseball is two hours of men scratching themselves and winking at each other, and about ten minutes of action. It’s no wonder that the Super Bowl is famous for its ads, since football has more stoppages in play than actual play. Soccer (a.k.a. the real football, you know, the one in which the foot and the ball actually combine on a regular basis) is basically a bunch of ball passing. Basketball, NASCAR, and hockey are faster and a lot more happens, but the repetitiveness of each creates its own inertia, punctuated by just a few slam dunks, a crash, or two-on-one breakaways respectively. Sports are usually exciting to play, but rarely exciting to watch. They allow great social interaction, are alibis for community and bonding, and the boringness can be enjoyable, so let me be clear that this is not an attack on sport. Granted, less people have curled than played with a football or basketball, so it’s also perhaps harder to feel sense memories with curling that add excitement. But objectively speaking, the sport is no more or less exciting than almost any sport.

What I enjoy about curling is that I can watch it and relax, reflect, and contemplate. But if we’re honest, isn’t that what most sports do?

Some might counter the above question by noting that fans are raucous and rowdy for other sports in a way that they aren’t for curling. Which leads us to the second objection: curling’s players and viewers are deemed inappropriate. They’re rarely urban, often hailing from small towns instead. They can tend to be older – when Kevin Martin is the sport’s Kobe Bryant or Wayne Gretzky, many find it laughable. And they’re balanced in gender, which in turn means that audience behavior is usually much less masculine. When Martin was pretty much guaranteed the gold medal at the end of his game with Norway, the crowd started singing the national anthem, not “hey hey hey, goodbye,” and the Norwegian skip smiled warmly. There was no trash talk in the house (if you pardon the curling pun). But why can’t sports be this way? Are we so keen to keep it a young male arena for chest-beating and for metaphorical war? And must it seem to be all the rage in New York or Milan to count as worthy?

Kevin Martin, 46 year old gold medal curler

Perhaps there’s hope in the news that Wall Street fell in love with the sport this time around, helped on by its appearance on CNBC after trading hours. The alpha male predatory environment that led to our crappy economy could use a sport with a star who is a bald, wrinkled guy from the prairies, and who runs Kevin’s Rocks-n-Racquets when he’s not playing. It’s not a sport drowning in testosterone, but that’s its charm.


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3 Responses to “ In Defense of Curling ”

  1. Cornel Sandvoss on March 1, 2010 at 10:41 AM

    In the little time I had to watch this year, I quite enjoyed Curling, too. There is also a chapter on Curling at the Winter Olympics in a forthcoming book by Hugh O’Donnell (I will post the link here nearer publication).

    However, while I want to agree with everything you say, the same argument could be made for Snooker and Darts, the two most appalling sports ever to (dis)grace TV screens as the sporting equivalent of low-production values-Reality TV.

    I would argue this: it’s not so much a problem that we are making fun of curling. The problem is that we do not make even remotely enough fun of (all) other sports!

    • Jonathan Gray on March 1, 2010 at 9:57 PM

      You’re spot on in the final par., Cornel — my ire isn’t so much directed at those who make fun of curling as at those who do so from the self-anointed holy high ground of being fans of a supposedly exciting, brilliant, captivating sport.

  2. Evan Davis on March 2, 2010 at 8:49 PM

    I suppose that the only argument for curling and against other unphysical sports like snooker, billiards, darts and shuffleboard is that athletics just might indeed have to pass a minimum threshold of physical involvement to be considered of a similar status. Curling does, while snooker, billiards, darts and shuffleboard do not.

    Or perhaps the perspective against the above four would be that curling is a sporting tradition somewhere (Canada and Scotland), therefore it should be considered legitimate.

    Really, though, I just feel that curling has got something that the aforementioned “bar” sports do not. I love it with all my heart.