There’s an unlikely scenario unfolding in world curling that could see Team Canada, the defending world champions, ousted from this season’s world championship competition before it even begins.
Canada, which won the last two iterations of the World Men’s Championship, will not get an automatic berth to the next tournament due to a loophole in World Curling Federation rules. To earn its spot, it will have to face Brazil, a country not known for its winter sports dominance.
The bizarre situation came about due to World Curling Federation rules, which allow the Americas to send just two teams to the tournament. Normally, the team that finished highest last season gets an automatic ticket, but because the 2018 tournament next spring is slated to take place in Las Vegas, Team USA gets the automatic spot instead. Team Canada, meanwhile, is left to earn its spot, a task that shouldn’t prove difficult given its possible opponents. There are only six national teams in the Americas region — Canada, the United States, Brazil, Guyana, Mexico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
With Mexico, Guyana and the U.S. Virgin Islands opting not to compete, however, Brazil, which is ranked No. 44 out of 57 world teams, is the only country left standing in Canada’s way, and the South American team wants its shot.
Brazil may have an ulterior motive, however: earning an Olympic berth for a men’s team ahead of the 2022 Games in Beijing. (It’s too late to qualify for the 2018 Games in South Korea.)
“Qualifying for the [world championship] is an imperative step in the journey to Olympic qualification,” the WCF said in a statement. Any team that earns a spot to compete at the world championships in the four years immediately before the Olympics earns the right to compete at an official Olympic Qualification Event. Brazil has never fielded an Olympic curling team.
Brazil’s Confederation of Sports on Ice, which oversees its national curling team, has not commented on its decision to challenge Canada.
This is not the first time Brazil has declared its intention to compete for a spot, however. Brazil challenged Team USA in 2009, 2010, 2015 and 2017, losing in 3-0 sweeps at the best-out-of-five competition each time.
It would shock the curling world if the outcome of Brazil’s next meeting against Canada turns out differently, but Curling Canada is taking the challenge seriously as the organization contemplates which team to send to the match, set to take place concurrently in London when the city hosts the 2018 World Financial Group Continental Cup in January.
“We have a proud tradition of performing at a high level on the international stage,” Peckham said, “and we’ll have a quality team in London to play against Brazil.”