If you are familiar with the #TwineTime blog you should know the #1 mantra used throughout the history of blog posts: #growthesport!
All sports go through growing pains of change. Some change can encourage growth. Some change can hinder growth. Either way, change is inevitable and the path to the future is paved with navigating change in a constructive way. Even if it fails miserably or seems like a horrible idea for the onset.
This past weekend saw the World Curling Federation Annual General Assembly take place in Budapest, Hungary. In fine tradition, some changes were needing to be discussed and adopted into play for the future betterment of curling. But one change, an "emergency motion", is being met with mixed (this will seem punny trust me) emotions.
Mixed doubles curling is taking off and after the 2018 Winter Olympics was deemed an international success for the sport. During the competition in PyeongChang, mixed doubles captured the hearts and eyes of the sporting world, from new fans to old fans to celebrities to water coolers in the office. People were talking about curling! The decision to add mixed doubles curling to the international sporting stage, not just in the Olympics, was a change deemed a success, a #growthesport check mark!
But the discipline itself is not "new" to hard core curling fans. In fact the World Mixed Doubles Curling Championship has been around since 2008 and will celebrate its 12th anniversary next year in Stavanger, Norway. Mixed doubles has seen tremendous growth around the world. While the men's and women's team discipline has, arguably, run a bit stagnant in some countries around the globe, mixed doubles continues to see new nations pick up the discipline.
At the inaugural championships in 2008, 24 nations entered the competition. Last year 40 nations competed for the world title. 40! These nations included non-curling hotbeds like Croatia, Lithuania, Slovenia and Guyana. The opportunity for athletes from non-traditional curling power house nations to compete on the international stage is huge towards the #growthesport movement.
Bring in the 2018 AGA in Hungary. After the "emergency motion" was made and approved, beginning with the 2020 world championships the event will no longer be an open entry format but rather a 20 nation competition. The Top 16 teams from the previous year will automatically qualify for the championship while the remaining four spots will be determined via a World Challenge event.
Really? This is how we want to encourage #growthesport for the future? At quick glance does this not seem like a "rich get richer" argument? 16 teams earn auto berths? Wow! So basically we can just schedule the following nations in every year right: Canada, USA, Scotland, Russia, China, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway. Add in now South Korea, Japan and Hungary as consistent mixed doubles specialists and we have 11 nations right there. And most of these nations, outside Hungary, are already considered to be the Top 10 nations for the sport. Where will the growth happen for the other nations?
Having attended the 2017 world championship in Lethbridge, AB, I can say first hand how important and impactful participation in this event has been for many nations. Poland, Slovakia, Austria, New Zealand, among others, were all very forward and open when discussing how to #growthesport back home and how participating in a world championship event can be beneficial. If you want to read direct comments from those who competed in 2017, visit the blog post HERE.
In that blog post I discussed the sport development pyramid and how, at the base core of all sport, the #1 consideration surrounds PARTICIPATION. While I can see the argument made by those who voted in favour of the change, saying we need to see stronger results and better performance to elevate the discipline into elite status, how are we to achieve this goal? We become elite by placing barriers on participation? To climb up the pyramid you need to support the base layer first. So we offer a World Challenger event for 4 spots? Do you really think a Guyana or Poland or Romania are going to support their athletes just to compete in a world challenge event? Come on! We are already seeing nations cut funding towards curling athletes (and athletes of other sports I should mention). When you remove the idea of a world championship competition, what incentive exists now for a national sport governing body to support curling athletes?
Now ok 40 teams competing is a bit much. I can see that argument. Logistically alone for the host facility and organizing committee it can be a nightmare. The athletes competing as well usually have a lot of down time in between games which can be a huge hindrance. But is this the best solution?
Why not implement a similar formula used in Europe? The European Curling Championships have an A, B and C-division where nations compete for promotion and relegation. What if we increase the total teams competing for the world championship to 24? This would create four pools of six nations. What if we only allocate the Top 12 positions for auto berths into the next year's championship? And what if we held the A and B division championships at the same time? We could see the concept of a "world challenger" still play out where those who emerge at the top of the B-division enter a playoff bracket against those who finish at the bottom of the A-division. The B-division could feature the next Top 12 ranked teams who play a RR for positioning to enter the "world challenge" bracket against the lower finishing Top 12 from the A-division. At least we see some ladder progression and it adds a different level of competition and intrigue into the championship event itself. And it invites 36 nations to compete overall!
What about the C-division you ask? This would be held prior to for the early developing nations in the discipline. If you are a new nation who has never competed, this is where you start. Lets assume we get 8 nations entered here, taking our total competing nations to 44, still an increase over last year's total. These 8 nations would consist of aforementioned new nations and the bottom finishers, originally in B-division, from the "world challenge". The catch being no nation competing in A-division can drop all the way down to C-division in one championship year.
From a real world example, here is what the divisions would look like based on last year's results:
A-Division: Switzerland, Russia, Canada, South Korea, Japan, Hungary, Sweden, Turkey, Scotland, Czech Republic, Norway, Italy, USA, Estonia, China, Finland, Australia, Denmark, France, Brazil, Latvia, Kazakhstan, Spain, Belarus
B-Division: Slovenia, Lithuania, Guyana, Germany, England, Hong Kong, Slovakia, Poland, Austria, Romania, Luxembourg, New Zealand
C-Division: Netherlands, Ireland, Croatia, Israel + hope for 4 new member association entries
This is just an example of how the divisions could play out, minus TB procedures from last year of course not being taken into consideration. But at least with the promotion and relegation (yes the dreaded "R" word folks I know) there is a ladder of progression and a more fair and equitable opportunity for all member associations participating. And do not get hung up on the relegation word either. Sure it didn't work for the Brier and Scotties but, if done correct, can be successful. Europe uses it well for their continental championship. Not to mention other sports, like UEFA and European football leagues, have been using the promotion/relegation concept for years. It can work!
What are your thoughts on the new mixed doubles format change? Share your thoughts with me in the comments below or on social media. Is this change good or bad for the sport? Do you think this will help or hinder the #growthesport movement?
Time to focus on the action on the ice. This was a #Tour500 weekend for the men and the women. Even more special, this weekend was the first Tour 500 events of the season for the women's tour. In fine tradition, lets throw the #GunnerRunback towards the house looking back at what went down over the weekend:
- At the #HDFShootout in Edmonton, defending AB champions Team Scheidegger started their season off with a bang when they defeated #TeamUpset contender Alina Kovaleva's Russian squad in the championship final. Fellow Alberta contender Kelsey Rocque and Saskatchewan's Robyn Silvernagle, playing with perennial SK contender Stephanie Lawton now, reached the SF. Former AB and Scotties champ Chelsea Carey, with her new line-up of course, and defending SK champ Sherry Anderson, also sporting a new line-up, had a strong season opening event reaching the QF.
- At the #StuSellsOakville women's event, #TeamSkipper sent a message to the competition, and the doubters, when Team Einarson defeated two-time defending champion Team Tirinzoni to claim their first title of the year. Worth noting, in the final Einarson did not have hammer once and used the #StealPants to close out the victory in 6 quick ends. #TeamUpset flag bearer Team Birt and #TwineTime dark horse contender Team Wrana from Sweden reached the SF.
- On the men's side, it was #HoppSchwiiz all the way to a #StuSellsOakville championship for Team Schwaller as they knocked off #TeamUpset contender Team Tuck Jr. for the title. Fellow up and coming Swiss contender Team Hess and the newly formed Team Epping reached the SF.
We certainly saw some strong debuts this past weekend, many of which with new team line-ups. But we also saw the continued theme of teams who have a week or two of ice under their sliders are proving to have an early advantage. Just ask Team Einarson and Team Schwaller!
Remember the Tour 500 offers increased points from the Tour 250 events we have commonly seen in the initial weeks of the season, meaning we should expect to see some changes on the rankings mountain. Here are the NEW #PowerRankings:
- Team Schwaller - 635 (LR: HM)
- Team Ulsrud - 500 (1)
- Team Matsumura - 340 (2)
- Team Edin - 300 (4)
- Team De Cruz - 300 (4)
Hon. Mention: Team Tuck Jr., Team Hess, Team Iwai, Team Calvert, Team Dunstone
- Team Einarson - 510 (NR)
- Team Scheidegger - 500 (NR)
- Team Yoshimua - 430 (1)
- Team Kovaleva - 300 (NR)
- Team Tirinzoni - 300 (NR)
Hon. Mention: Team Robertson, Team J. Kim, Team Sidorova, Team Silvernagle, Team Rocque, Team Birt, Team Wrana
We see some drastic changes in the Power Rankings this week, especially on the women's side of the mountain. Of course this is what should be expected when you have #Tour500 events concluding over the weekend. For the women, this weekend saw the first two Tour 500 events of the season and, as expected, the two winners (Team Einarson, Team Scheidegger) were able to use those wins to move to the top of the rankings. Teams Kovaleva and Tirinzoni, also making their debuts this past weekend, are rewarded for reaching the finals and now sit in the Top 5.
For the men, consistency reigns supreme this week. After QF appearances in their previous two events, Team Schwaller was able to run the table this weekend and pick up their first tour victory of the season. Schwaller has capitalized on smart scheduling, playing two Tour 500 events (Baden, Stu Sells Oakville) and a Tour 250 (Oakville Fall Classic) to reach the top of the mountain. They have been consistent in their three events, always qualifying and ensuring they are picking up big points each time they step foot on the ice. But, similar to the women, the top spots on the men's side of the mountain are, as expected, being held down by the two Tour 500 event winners thus far.
But none of the teams in the Top 5 should feel too comfortable right now. This upcoming week we start to really dive into the 2018/19 curling season. The women have 4 tour events coming up, two Tour 500 and two Tour 250. The men have 3 tour events this weekend, including our first Tour 1000 event of the season in addition to two Tour 250 events. There are A LOT of points on the ice for the taking this weekend.
And yes the inaugural Curling World Cup event will also get underway this week. As mentioned in the Rankings Redux blog post, for the rookie season the world cup events will not carry any points towards the #PowerRankings. Remember of course this is just relating to this very blog. Of course world cup results will carry actual rankings points in the real world. But #StayTuned for my preview of this event, and all the events on tour this weekend, later in the week.