As much as my brain is fighting my ability to think about curling at this time of the year, I have managed to squeeze one more column out before I fully get into my golf game and bar-b-q’s until September.
Curling Canada has made a couple of very interesting changes over the past months, with regards to Brier participation and the competitive makeup of the Brier and Scotties. And Katherine Henderson, the head of Curling Canada, has just resigned her seven-year post to take the helm and lead in several reforms for Hockey Canada.
This, combined with the March hiring of David Murdoch to lead the national high-performance program, puts curling at an interesting crossroads.
Katherine Henderson • Michael Burns-Curling Canada
First, on Katherine; I think she is a perfect candidate for where Hockey Canada needs to go. It became quite evident over the past few years that hockey is an Old Boys Club, in desperate need of reform to clean up the game and the administration for 2023. She did a fine job of developing an agenda around inclusion and equity in curling over her tenure, which has been good for the game and leaves it well positioned to grow for the next few years.
I can hear many of you shouting down the idea of how “political correctness” and “wokeness” are not needed in curling, and how all this is ruining talking about “the broads” at your Tuesday night men’s league. If you think that curling wasn’t in need of this kind of change to survive and grow for the decades to come, then perhaps you should return to the cave from which you emerged. The work around inclusion and diversity is the only possible future for a sport that has traditionally relied on being a source of community. Growth in the sport will need to come from all genders, from diverse cultures and backgrounds. The moves Henderson has made to advance the sport were table-stakes for any sports organization, and will need to continue and intensify in years to come.
The competitive side of the game will also need to evolve, one way or another. David Murdoch and the new CEO—whomever takes the job—have some big challenges to face.
How do we create an environment that encourages and develops the top teams in the world? It’s not just about better schedules and residency rules. Clearly there needs to be a mindset around helping the top teams get access to year-round coaching, facilities, and time to hone their skills. The challenge in Canada will be marrying this with the dozen or so top teams that are good enough to be considered elite. There is just not enough time and money in the game today to create an infrastructure to support them all; choices will have to be made. The pressure for Canada to medal at the Olympics is real. This is our game.
The tricky part of this in Canada is that high-performance curling is more than just the team that goes to the Olympics. There is the Brier/Scotties, vested in tradition and, quite frankly, a more fun experience than the Olympics. It seems inconceivable, to me, to put the future of the Brier and Scotties at risk in the name of funnelling one men’s and one women’s team to the Olympics—and yet that’s what we have been doing for years.
Jennifer insists the Olympic Games are fun • WCF
The challenge for the new CEO will be how to drive for success at the podium, which means supporting a few teams heavily, while ensuring the health of the competitive curling environment that feeds the elite. The gulf between junior curling and elite curling is huge right now, and it seems unrealistic to expect young twenty-somethings to devote a good part of their lives to growing in a sport that will not reward them until they reach the elite; likely not for many years. The gap between Tier 2 teams and the top five to 10 teams in the country is also widening. With the number of likely retirements coming after the 2026 Olympic cycle this gap will become more apparent, and does not bode well for Canada’s future medal hopes if changes aren’t made.
No more cups • Anil Mungal-The Curling News
Oh, and the Brier still needs a new title sponsor—some eight months after the market announcement. Did I mention the waning attendance at national events, and slumping television ratings?
All in all, the next CEO has a tough task ahead. I’m curious to see who is willing to take it on, especially in a world where some verbose podcasters are quick to offer opinions from the sidelines.