CALGARY — Whether a helmet would have protected Brad Gushue when he crashed face-first on the curling ice last week is debatable.
But the sight of one of the world's best curlers sporting a swollen right eye and stitches after a fall brings to a boil what was the simmering issue of whether protective headgear should be mandatory in the sport, and at what age.
Gushue put his arms out to stop his dive in Saturday's quarter-final of The Masters in Truro, N.S., but not fast enough to protect his face. The skip from St. John's, N.L., returned to the rink and finished out that game after getting stitches at a nearby hospital.
This happened at a time when some curling clubs require junior curlers to wear helmets, senior curlers are voluntarily donning head protection and Curling Canada is developing head-protection recommendations as part of a concussion strategy.
Equipment manufacturers now produce stylish curling tuques and hats with protective padding in them. An early alternative to the helmet was a cushioned, donut-shaped "halo" worn around the head.
But don't expect to see helmets or head protection at the national men's or women's curling championships in the near future.
Not only would there would be resistance from teams at the Tim Hortons Brier and the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, but the viewing public wouldn't like it.
Those watching on television are accustomed to close-up and unfettered sight lines of curlers' heads and facial expressions.
"You should see the e-mails we get every year about guys wearing baseball caps on the ice," said Danny Lamoureux, Curling Canada's director of championship services and club development. "People are furious."
As with hockey helmets and visors, safety equipment becomes mandatory at grassroots levels before it ever becomes the rule at the elite level.
It's currently up to each curling club to set rules on helmets and head protection, but Curling Canada intends to make the issue part of a concussion strategy to be unveiled in 2016.
"The federal government has mandated all sports organizations to have a concussion policy and a return to play policy," Lamoureux explained Monday.
"Most of our injuries don't happen at the high level. They happen at the recreational level. We're in the process now of developing a concussion policy and a return-to-play policy for concussions which will reach right down to the club level. With that, we are going to come up with a helmet policy that they can follow."
Curling clubs aren't franchises of Curling Canada, but voluntary members. Clubs aren't required to adhere to the organization's recommendations, but headgear is now a burning issue at the learn-to-curl stage.
"We're getting lots of calls from people who say 'we need someone to tell us what to do,'" Lamoureux said. "They're having internal fights. One parent doesn't want their kids to wear helmets and the other parent won't let their kids play if the kids don't wear helmets."
Lamoureux says he visited a curling club in Boucherville, Que., last year and estimates 80 per cent of the curlers in a Friday afternoon seniors' league wore some type of head protection.
To keep curlers stable and thus upright on the ice, adults and children learning the sport are now taught to sweep wearing "double-grippers", he said.
Curlers glide out of the hack on a slider on one shoe. Using the slider to side-step down the ice while brushing is done, but it's now more common to sweep wearing grippers on both feet.
Six-time Canadian champion Colleen Jones said among the many challenges in curling, staying on your feet is one of them.
"Almost every curler has had a fall," she said. "I have seen first-hand blood on the ice and it is not a good thing. Brad's fall was totally, totally flukey, but they're all flukey."
"I've seen epic falls at the Scotties. I haven't seen the head hit the ice at the Scotties, but I've definitely seen it at our club where people fall badly. Then the worst thing is people try to get up right away because they're embarrassed."
Jones completely supports junior and senior curlers wearing head protection, but expects it could be years before it becomes standard at the Brier or the Scotties.
"It's not going to happen any time soon, but incidents like what happened to Brad definitely make you wonder," she said.