TV & RadioPodcast review

Broomgate podcast review: The scandal that tipped the sport of curling into a hotbed of resentment and rivalry

Broomgate opens at the 2015 Tour Challenge in the Canadian town of Paradise, when a man named Brad Gushue walked on to the ice

In the world of wild notions that somehow become an Olympic sport, curling has a particular claim to fame. There’s the rock, a fat granite stone that can weigh almost 20kg, with a colourful handle on it. There’s the skip, the team captain, who glides on one knee to launch the rock down its icy path and then yells “hurry” and “whoa” at their team-mates, the sweepers. Ah, yes, the sweepers, who huff along beside the gliding rock, furiously scrubbing at the ice before it with their brooms like manic Cinderellas, sweeping, sweeping, sweeping.

John Cullen knows all about curling: he played it himself for many years, with seven provincial medals to his name – none of them, he makes clear, gold. And in his new podcast, Broomgate, part of the CBC stable, he explains how the sport he loves came close to destruction when a wayward broom entered the chat.

Broomgate opens at the 2015 Tour Challenge in the Canadian town of Paradise, when a man named Brad Gushue walked on to the ice. Gushue, as is made abundantly clear, is kind of a legend in the world of curling – the LeBron James of the sport, according to Cullen. And Gushue’s team was changing the game, blowing up the convivial world of curling with his weapon of choice: a fancy broom.

“What Gushue is doing is he is using just one sweeper,” Cullen says. “Curling teams always use two sweepers. But during this game there’s only one, and we didn’t know why.” But they soon found out: Brad Gushue and co had got their hands on a Hardline broom, a new type of broom with a head different from everything that had come before.


How exactly did it change the game? Here lie the limits of my broom knowledge, but this particular broom-head, invented by an anonymous broom-head inventor, seemed to direct the rock in a way that was new to the curling world and revolutionary for the rock. The broom tipped curling – heretofore considered a gentleman’s sport with a close community of amicable rock-shovers – into a hotbed of resentment and rivalry like never before.

Cullen is undoubtedly the man to tell this story: he has the knowledge and delivery of a good host but has also managed to get all the stakeholders to talk to him about the broom that swept them all apart. Over Broomgate’s six episodes he interviews broom manufacturers and world champions, players and fans, mixing these conversations with archive audio of this bizarro game and managing to convey an infectious enthusiasm for this sport and all its scandal. When the Hardline broom met a new rival from BalancePlus, things got heated, hackles were raised, enmities inflamed, enemies formed.

Another thing about Cullen: he was an early adopter of the Hardline broom, and he even convinced his higher-profile friend to do the same. That friend then went head to head with Gushue in a match with the same broom – and swept, ahem, to victory. Gushue decided to showcase the difference to the world, and a kind of broom-head arms race ensued. The conviviality of yore was replaced with distrust. And all of it was Cullen’s fault, or so he tells it. “Call me patient zero, the first domino, but I’m here to tell you I might have caused Broomgate.”

I’m only four episodes in, but so far I’m disinclined to blame Cullen for the drama. Rather I want to credit him, for a gripping story about an obscure sport relayed with an animated glee that sent me into a delirious spiral of YouTube videos, watching men yelling “Hurry” and sweeping ice with a mighty fervour while the rocks clack against each other like giant snooker balls. Ah, yes, the sweeping, the thing apart that’s at the heart of it all. What a story – but also, with its frenzied broomwork, what a peculiar and glorious sport.

Fiona McCann

Fiona McCann, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer, journalist and cohost of the We Can’t Print This podcast