At first, “Curling” seems like the friendliest (read: most Canadian) article on Wikipedia. The entry devotes several paragraphs to good sportsmanship, often referred to as the “Spirit of Curling.” Before each match, the two teams trade well-wishes such as “good curling” and “have a pleasant game.” Each team member has a fun, non-threatening position like “mate” or “skip.” Players congratulate their opponents for making good shots, and celebrate their own successes with modest nods. When the match is over, the winning team traditionally buys the losers hot dogs or a round of drinks.
Don’t let the nicey-nice exterior fool you. The edit history of the curling page is an anthology of cold burns. A newbie comparing curling to “shuffleboard on ice” is publicly reprimanded. The correct metaphor, obviously, is “chess on ice.” And when someone screws up and calls the “stone” a “puck,” they face the virtual equivalent of the hammer.
But there’s more here than the usual back-and-forth between overly nitpicky Wikipedia editors. Curling faces unique challenges when it comes to maintaining a semblance of peace on the site.
Earl Washburn is founder of the Curling WikiProject and the sport’s self-appointed WikiGuardian. The 31-year-old Ottawa native says the reason the page is so important to him is because he himself is a curler. He took up the sport as a kid, when his patriotic Canadian father brought him along to the local curling club. Earl began editing the curling entry in 2003 at the age of 17. He’d just discovered Wikipedia while trying to find more sources for a high school research assignment. Since then he’s made over 230 edits to the curling page, specifically, and volunteered countless hours to improve other articles related to the subject.
According to Earl, curling’s biggest and longest-lasting editorial war is existential: is curling a game or a sport? The debate revolves around curling’s reputation as not being very athletic. You might think the IOC’s including curling as an official Winter Olympics sport since 1998 would have resolved this issue. But it seems many sports purists are unwilling to concede the fight.
The strategy of choice for those on the "not a sport" side of the argument is trolling. Vandals occasionally delete and replace the entire article with content that’s (a) repetitive, (b) homophobic/ageist, or (c) textbook adolescent. Another strategy is to mark each reference to curling as a sport with the flag "* Citation needed."
On the other hand, Earl feels strongly that sport is the right categorization. He points out that sweeping the ice is an extremely physical activity. Strong sweepers can make all the difference in a game. In his view, one reason Team Canada won the 2014 Olympic gold was because their sweepers were jacked.
But what about all of those late-blooming curlers? Is it really a sport if your top talent is middle-aged? “Often teams will have skips who are older, and more experienced, and thus will also not be in peak physical shape,” Earl says. “Even still, you don’t see many skips over the age of 50 curling competitively.”
As you might expect, the number of attempted edits to curling’s Wikipedia page skyrockets every four years during the Winter Olympics. The week before the Games began, the Wikipedia administrators were forced to lock the page.
Persistent vandalism is also a problem for the pages of individual curlers. For example, the internet has collectively decided that Team USA curling member Matt Hamilton looks just like Super Mario. It may well be that Hamilton/Mario has “One of the greatest mustaches in sports history.” But is this really an appropriate addition to his encyclopedia page? Then again, at least the editor called it “sports” history…
Olympic curler Kaitlyn Lawes won a gold medal for Team Canada on Tuesday in the first-ever contest of mixed doubles. Before that, however, Washburn was forced to lock her Wikipedia page after multiple attempts to add references to an alleged online stalker.
Washburn’s biggest concern is curlers editing their own pages. One former world champion repeatedly edited her article with unsourced information, and specifically removed all references to her place of birth. After Washburn reinstated her bio, she found him on Facebook and sent several angry messages.
Another curler shamelessly modified his article to make himself more appealing to sponsors, changing neutral descriptions like “some success” to “a lot of success.” When Washburn removed the changes, the player sent him a blistering email suggesting he alone should control his Wikipedia page to use as a promotional tool.
At first, this intensity behind the scenes seems incongruous with curling’s wholesome image. After all, this is the sport where Team Canada took this adorable photo with Switzerland and Russia after the mixed doubles match. Surely there’s no hidden ferocity behind those smiles.
Or could it be that this is actually Wikipedia mirroring real life? Are all curlers, like all Wikipedia editors, secretly ruthless?
Consider this: Before the match, tradition requires that opponents smile, extend hands, and say “good curling.” On the inside, however, they are closed off and single-minded, their private thoughts more along the lines of, “Let’s start already. You may think you can win. But I intend to disabuse you.”
Perhaps the true spirit of curling is the spirit of suppressed aggression.
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