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Humble, kind: Can curling cure our troubled world?


GANGNEUNG, South Korea — The world, some fret, is falling apart. Politicians spar viciously on social media. Leaders lie. Former heroes fall like dominoes amid endless scandals. Cruelty has come to feel commonplace.

But never fear: We have curling.

The sport with the frenzied sweeping and clacking rocks has rules that literally require players to treat opponents with kindness. Referees aren’t needed, because curlers police themselves. And the winners generally buy the losers a beer.

At the Pyeongchang Olympics, curlers and their fans agree: In an era of vitriol and venom, curling may be the perfect antidote to our troubled times.

“Nobody gets hit — other than the rock,” laughed Evelyne Martens of Calgary, Canada, as she watched a recent Canada vs. Norway curling match. “And there’s nothing about Trump here!”

In the 500 years since curling was conceived on the frozen ponds of Scotland, it has remained largely immune to the cheating controversies and bloated egos common in other sports. This is thanks to what is known as “The Spirit of Curling,” a deeply ingrained ethos that dictates that curlers conduct themselves with honor and adhere to good sportsmanship.

The World Curling Federation’s rules state: “Curlers play to win, but never to humble their opponents. A true curler never attempts to distract opponents, nor to prevent them from playing their best, and would prefer to lose rather than to win unfairly.”

Kindness is the baseline for what curling is all about, says Canadian Kaitlyn Lawes, who won the gold medal this week in curling mixed doubles.

“We shake hands before the game, we shake hands after. And if someone makes a great shot against you, we congratulate them because it’s fun to play against teamsthat are playing well,” Lawes says. “I think that spirit of curling can be used in the real world — and hopefully it can be a better place.”

Case in point: After losing the curling mixed doubles gold medal to Canada, Switzerland’s Martin Rios swallowed his disappointment during a press conference to say that the Canadians had deserved to win, declaring: “They were the better team.”

The Canadians returned the favor by heartily applauding their Swiss opponents not once but twice. And before the women’s round-robin match Thursday, the Korean team presented their Canadian competitors with a gift bag of Korean curling banners and pins.

Children new to the sport are coached about the spirit of curling from the very start, says Willie Nicoll, chairman of British Curling. That’s because fair play is not an afterthought, he says. It is the heart of the game.

“It’s always been looked at as being a very gentlemanly sport,” says Kate Caithness, President of the World Curling Federation. “Where does that happen in sport, when you say to your opposition, ‘Good shot?’” It’s not that curling isn’t competitive. Like every other Olympian in Pyeongchang, curlers all want the gold — just not at the expense of their integrity.

Perhaps the best example of this is the lack of referees. Officials rarely get involved in matches because players call themselves out for fouls. If a curler accidentally hits a stone that’s in motion with their foot or broom — a situation known as a “burned stone” — he or she is expected to immediately announce the mistake. Aileen Geving, a member of the U.S. Olympic curling team, says it would be unthinkable for her not to own up to such a goof.

“We all have to be true to ourselves and I know I would feel way too guilty not to say anything if I hit it!” she says, laughing. “I think there’s a certain morality behind that.”

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