Quick, which is more Canadian: curling or hockey?
It’s curling, hands down. True, in terms of sheer numbers, more people in Canada watch and play hockey than slap on a slider and “hurry hard,” but as we head into the Winter Olympics season, it’s worthwhile reminding ourselves that compared to the rest of the world, Canada’s fascination with brooms and bonspiels is uniquely, and weirdly, all our own.
The PyeongChang Winter Olympics will commence in a couple of weeks and already there’s a noticeably different feel this time around — thanks to unsportsmanlike conduct by the NHL. A conspicuous lack of star power on the ice (apologies to Chris Kelley, Maxim Lapierre, Ben Scrivens, etc.) will mean that as far as team sports go, it’s at the curling rink where we’ll really be pitting Canada’s best against the world.
Which is great, since we obviously care about curling more than anyone else does. A glance at Google Trends shows that while both sports, hockey and curling, get more searches in Canada per capita than in any other country, the margin of difference is much larger for curling.
Google Trends uses a 100-point scale to compare the popularity of search terms across regions, giving a score of 100 to the place with the highest relative popularity and then ranking the rest in descending order.
By that method, Canada is tops for hockey with 100, followed by Sweden at 64, Finland at 60, Latvia at 48 and Switzerland at 32 (the United States gets a score of 17). Roughly, this translates into hockey being twice as popular a search term in Canada (and thus, loosely, twice as popular in society at large) than in Latvia and a little less so in Sweden and Finland. Five times as popular as in the US.
For curling, though, Canada is again at 100, followed by Switzerland at a mere 24, the UK at 15, Sweden at 13 and Norway and the United States at 11. That means (again, roughly) that curling is four times more popular to Canadians than it is to its nearest rival and a full ten times more popular than to Norwegians or Americans.
How about this stat: in any given year, there are about 600,000 Canadians registered with Hockey Canada, but there are 700,000 Canadians who curl every year. Okay, granted we have another 800,000 playing hockey in rec leagues around the country and, yes, the number of regular curlers (playing more than ten times a year) is a lot less at 284,000. But still.
And the numbers are telling on the international level, too. Whereas Canada has close to one-third of the world’s hockey players, as measured by those playing in nationally registered leagues, somewhere between 80 and 90 per cent of the world’s curlers are Canadian. Sorry, Scotland, but that makes curling ours.
One last point of weirdness: at various times a year, the sport of curling is a more popular Google search term in Canada than are American football and basketball. Curling even pops up above the almighty soccer once in a while. But that’s only once every four years, starting in two weeks.