Outrage as Rare Bonspiel Cancelled: Curling Tournament Goes Unofficial

EmmaAnalyst IJanuary 10, 2010

Scotland is currently experiencing its worst “cold snap” in decades; temperatures in the Scottish Highlands reached a near-record of minus 22 degrees Celsius last week, and virtually the entire country is covered in snow and ice.

For periods when temperatures are as low as they have been recently, there is a tradition which originated in Scotland; it is called a Bonspiel, or a Grand Match.

When a lake freezes over, if the ice is a minimum of seven inches thick, a colossal event is held on the frozen water. Thousands of curlers, from all over the country, make their way to the lake for one enormous curling tournament.

It is an exceedingly rare opportunity—the chance to play on real ice, rather than indoor skating rinks.

This weekend should have seen the first Bonspiel since 1979 held at the Lake of Menteith; instead, it saw curling enthusiasts’ excitement crushed as local authorities and emergency services refused to endorse the event due to issues with the surrounding roads. Because of this, the event could not get insurance, and had to be cancelled.

The day before it was due to begin.

In recent times, Health and Safety laws have been becoming more and more ludicrous—this is but the latest episode. For example, a law was passed not too long ago which now forbids teachers to give out sweets to the school kids, on the premise that it will help combat obesity.


The intention behind such laws is (one would hope) honourable, in the sense that they are supposed to be for the benefit of the people. However, if the relevant information is given, then the informed person ought to be free to make their own decisions.

This enforcement of things which ought to be left up to the individual is precisely what has given Britain the reputation of being a “nanny state.”

Understandably, curling fans were duly upset at the ruling. The outrage sparked an internet campaign to host their own and unofficial Bonspiel on the lake; a message was sent out on Facebook, and thousands of curlers turned up to celebrate the freezing over of the water themselves.

Curlers even arrived with their own floodlights for a midnight match on Friday night.

All of these people decided—for themselves—that this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity was much too good to pass up, which is far more in the spirit of the original Bonspiels than anything the authorities could have deigned to permit.

Although it is now very possible there will never be another official Grand Match in Scotland—they’ve banned it once, and chances are they’ll do it again—the events of this weekend spawn hopes that the tradition will continue. With or without the blessing of those in charge.

Just as it should do.