Sarnia must wait another year for Grand Slam of Curling event

Sarnia has been swept off the Grand Slam of Curling schedule for a second straight year because of the ongoing pandemic.

Skip Rachel Homan, centre, of Ottawa watches her rock with lead Lisa Weagle, left, and second Joanne Courtney during the third draw at the Grand Slam of Curling's Princess Auto Elite 10 at Thames Campus Arena in Chatham, Ont., on Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018. Mark Malone/Chatham Daily News/Postmedia Network

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Sarnia has been swept off the Grand Slam of Curling schedule for a second straight year because of the ongoing pandemic.

The Masters tournament slated for Oct. 19-24 at Sarnia Arena has been moved to Oakville, but local organizers are optimistic the event will finally be held in Sarnia next year.

“They’ve assured us that we’re going to have it on the 2022-23 calendar,” said Tourism Sarnia-Lambton’s special events and sports marketing co-ordinator, Vicky Praill.

The Masters was originally going to be in Sarnia in October 2020, but it was one of four events on the 2020-21 tour cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Praill said the decision to relocate this year’s event was made in late spring by Sportsnet, which owns and operates the Grand Slam series featuring the top men’s and women’s teams in the world.

With some arenas in Sarnia-Lambton being used as vaccination clinics, there were concerns Sarnia Arena might be unavailable to host the Masters this fall or unable to accommodate large crowds, Praill said.

“Sportsnet called it and just said, ‘We need to know for sure.’ Because of the COVID, we don’t know what the restrictions will be with the number of people and all that stuff, so that’s why they postponed it,” she said.

The decision was made “due to the impact of the evolving COVID-19 situation, and in conjunction with local health authorities and the community organizers,” said a statement from Sportsnet.

Teams are invited to Grand Slam of Curling events based on the World Curling Tour’s order of merit. The men’s and women’s teams competing in Sarnia would have included Olympic and world championship medallists.

“I know our club is still very interested in being a host of a Grand Slam event and Sportsnet is going to work with us to see if there’s a way that we can provide this,” said Jamie Parkinson, the Sarnia Golf & Curling Club’s head golf pro and curling draw master.

When the Masters was awarded to Sarnia in December 2019, a Grand Slam news release stated each event delivers an average of more than $1.3 million in economic impact in the host market.

“The excitement and buzz that was created for our community to host this event is certainly something that we want to recreate as soon as possible,” Praill said.

Ticket sales for the 2020 Masters were strong until the pandemic reached Canada and shutdowns began. Approximately 65 per cent of tickets were sold when the event was cancelled in July 2020.

“The initial event was extremely well received by the community, both in ticket sales and sponsorship,” Parkinson said.

That support hasn’t wavered, he said.

“From ticket-holders and volunteers and sponsors, there’s been some really positive support to say as soon as we can get it back in the Sarnia-Lambton area, people want to be part of it,” Parkinson said.

The Grand Slam event coming to Sarnia will likely still be the Masters, Praill said, “but I can’t say 100 per cent for sure at this time.”

The 2021-22 series begins with the Masters. It will also include the Boost National on Nov. 2-7 in Chestermere, Alta., the Meridian Open on Jan. 11-16 in Camrose, Alta., the Princess Auto Players’ Championship on April 12-17 in Toronto, and the Kioti Tractor Champions Cup on May 3-8 in Olds, Alta. The Tour Challenge scheduled for late September in Grande Prairie, Alta., has been postponed.

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