The 2021 world women's curling championship in Schaffhausen, Switzerland was cancelled Monday, creating some uncertainty for the qualification path ahead of the 2022 Beijing Olympics.
The World Curling Federation said that Swiss health authorities did not provide permission for the March 19-28 event due to the COVID-19 pandemic and concerns around the spread of new variants.
"It was a surprise because we'd been doing so much work," said WCF media head Christopher Hamilton. "We've put a lot of protocols in place with Swiss Curling and with the local organizers. It was with the health authority to confirm. We gave them our plan.
"Obviously with the variants ... they believe the strain that an international event would put on their local health authority with all the testing and just the increased risk that these things bring, they just weren't really prepared to do that."
The 2020 world women's curling championship in Prince George, B.C., was also cancelled last March.
Kerri Einarson from Manitoba would have represented Canada after winning the national championship last year.
Einarson's foursome and 17 other women's teams will compete in the upcoming Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary knowing a world championship two weeks later is no longer part of the winner's purse.
"I just hope there will be something for the women's championship at some point," Einarson said.
"I wasn't surprised. I didn't get my hopes up too much about playing in the worlds right after, just with everything happening. It's just all so crazy right now.
"We still want to defend that title and wear that Maple Leaf on our back with pride."
Hamilton said alternate options for the event were being considered, including the possibility of perhaps adding the women's championship to the list of bonspiels in the Calgary bubble which includes the men's national and world championships.
The WCF is also contemplating the creation of a replacement Olympic qualification event, likely in the fall, with teams that would have played at the world championship.
The top six finishers at the worlds were set to secure Olympic berths for their respective countries. A last-chance qualifier is planned for December to fill out the 10-country field for Beijing next February.
Six competitions, including the April 2-11 world men's curling championship, will be held using a secure bubble setup at Calgary's Markin MacPhail Centre.
It's unclear whether there is potential flexibility to adjust the back end of the bubble calendar to accommodate another nine-day world championship.
Hamilton said the Calgary option has been a talking point among WCF stakeholders.
"Most certainly it's one of the topics that's being discussed," Hamilton told The Canadian Press from Edinburgh, Scotland. "The only problem however is logistically with the timing of the event, international travel and the mixed doubles.
"There are a lot of complications purely just with how packed that bubble is at the moment. So it's highly unlikely (but) it's certainly a topic that those involved are discussing."
A Curling Canada spokesperson said the national federation has not been asked about such a possibility.
The Grand Slam of Curling is planning two events in the bubble after the men's worlds. The tentative schedule is April 14-20 for the Champions Cup and April 20-25 for the Players' Championship.
"We do not anticipate that these dates will be impacted should the women's worlds move into the Calgary bubble," Sportsnet communications director Sarah Grossman said in an email.
"Overall, as player and staff safety is our top priority, we continue to monitor and assess the ongoing COVID situation, and are prepared to adjust if needed."
The world mixed doubles championship -- also an Olympic qualifier -- is set for April 24 to May 1. Hamilton said the WCF has a host city in mind for that event but it has yet to be formally announced.
An alternative women's world/Olympic qualifier event in the fall could create a rather compact fall schedule for the Canadian champs.
An October date would probably be a good bet for the qualifier and the Olympic Trials are set for Nov. 20-28 in Saskatoon.
Also Monday, Curling Canada issued a statement saying its Calgary bubble events remain on track.
The Feb. 19-28 Hearts will kick things off, followed March 5-14 by the Tim Hortons Brier and the Canadian mixed doubles championship March 18-25.
Chief executive officer Katherine Henderson said the federation has been in regular contact with provincial and federal health officials.
"Our testing and enforcement protocols are backed by medical professionals, so we have every confidence that fans will be able see our sport’s best players perform in Calgary in an environment that is safe for athletes, officials and especially the host city of Calgary,” she said.
“We respect the decision of the World Curling Federation and we will await further direction with respect to the cancellation of the event in Switzerland.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2021.
- With files from Donna Spencer in Calgary.
Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.
Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press