Residence rules. Pregnancy exemptions. Confusion, questions and anger.
A press release from Curling Canada intended to confirm the draw for the women’s national championship sparked a debate about inclusion, equality and options for teams with pregnant players.
Prominent curlers from across the country rebuked the national sports organization this week for drafting and creating an exemption that only allowed teams ranked in the top five to apply.
When a fourth-ranked team was able to bring a free agent out of the province as a replacement for a player close to his expiration date, questions about the rules began to surface, along with some sharp criticism.
“I’m a little bummed that the rule seems to be really favoring only the elite in Canada,” said sixth-ranked Casey Scheidegger, one of three wild-card entrants in the Scotties’ Tournament of Hearts.
Scheidegger and her sister Jessie Haughian are pregnant and due to give birth in June.
However, since the Alberta-based team is outside the top five, it was not eligible to apply for the same exemption that was granted to the team skipped by fourth-ranked Kaitlyn Lawes, under federation rules.
“Us being number 6 as well and not knowing anything about it and finding out yesterday was, I guess, interesting to see that announcement,” Scheidegger told The Canadian Press on Wednesday. “Obviously, I think the most obvious thing about the rule is that it appears to be uneven.”
His sister also weighed in via Twitter.
The team, which already has an import in Manitoba’s Kate Hogan, made plans to add Kristie Moore as a backup. Moore, a 2010 Olympian based in Grande Prairie, Alta., has played with the team on several occasions in recent seasons.
With Haughian experiencing occasional aches and pains, Scheidegger said she was pleased Moore was available and hopes he gets plenty of playing time.
“Would we have applied for the waiver? Potentially,” Scheidegger said from Lethbridge, Alta. “I guess for us it didn’t become an option. So we complied with the residency rules because we thought that’s what we had available.”
‘Elitism’ and ‘favouritism’
Under those residency rules, at least three out of four players must live or have birthrights in their respective province or territory. Only one free agent per team is allowed unless a waiver is granted.
Lawes, vice Selena Njegovan and lead Kristin MacCuish reside in Winnipeg, while Calgary resident Jocelyn Peterman is the importer. Curling Canada granted Njegovan a pregnancy leave and allowed Edmonton free agent Laura Walker to replace her.
Since their ranking was within the cutoff line, that team was eligible to apply for a “pregnancy waiver that allowed them to add a free agent player for the Scottish Nationals who did not participate in their provincial/territorial playdowns,” Curling Canada said in its release.
Despite that wording, Curling Canada CEO Kathy Henderson said it’s not really a pregnancy exemption, but a “residency exemption” and that parental leave is available to anyone who applies for it.
He added that the decision to limit eligibility for the waiver to just five teams was not arbitrary.
“It wasn’t like we were trying to shut someone out,” Henderson told The Canadian Press from Toronto. “What we were looking at is about time patterns, who are those teams that traditionally receive funding from our national team program.
“That’s where we really set it.”
As a result, 13 of the 18 teams that qualified for the February 17-26 event in Kamloops, BC were unable to apply to make similar roster changes if necessary, as they are outside the top five.
Several notable curlers, including Olympians Dawn McEwen, Mike McEwen, Felix Asselin and Beth Peterson, criticized the eligibility rule on social media.
“Scheduling a pregnancy can be stressful and difficult for many athletes,” Dawn McEwen said on Twitter. “A rule that discriminates against some women who compete in the same national field is worrisome.
“Please give everyone the same opportunity Curling Canada.”
Scheduling a pregnancy can be stressful and difficult for many athletes. A rule that discriminates against some women competing in the same national field is worrisome. Please give everyone the same chance. @CurlingCanada pic.twitter.com/YSFSAj0YBR
Walker is focusing on mixed doubles this season, but has filled in for Team Lawes on occasion. But his addition to the Scotties would not have been possible if Lawes had been in sixth place or lower.
Asselin, who will skip Quebec’s entry in next month’s Tim Hortons Brier, called the rule an example of “elitism” and “favouritism.”
“All women with curlers should be able to be replaced in case of pregnancy by someone who follows all the rules of residence.”[s]Asselin tweeted. “It can’t be an excuse to add an import. This is very sad.”
Rules and Laws https://t.co/KStMpYwEOD
Ranking positions provide a strong picture of team performance, but are not necessarily the best yardstick for measuring ability or potential. Many teams miss larger events to earn points due to a limited travel schedule or a desire to only play select bonspiels.
For example, the 2022 Scotties were won by top-ranked Kerri Einarson of Manitoba, who beat Northern Ontario’s Krista McCarville, currently ranked 61st, in the final.
Einarson had moved on with a semifinal win over New Brunswick’s Andrea Kelly, who is now ranked 16th.
In the current standings, Einarson (284,750 points) leads Ontario’s Rachel Homan (270,750), Manitoba’s Jennifer Jones (206,000), Lawes (183,250) and British Columbia’s Clancy Grandy (166,625).
Peterson, who made his Scotties debut in 2021, also weighed in on the rule via Twitter.
“I’m sorry, but isn’t this disrespectful towards other pregnant women?” she tweeted. “I just can’t get behind giving the exemption to some teams and not others.”
Some curlers compete while pregnant (Homan was a memorable eight months pregnant when she reached the 2021 Scotties final), but sometimes backup players are needed.
Scheidegger called the disclaimers section of the press release “a very strange thing for me to read.”
“We have so many teams that could be in a very similar situation and looking for a player,” he said. “Obviously, you want to get a player that will make your team stronger, especially when you’re competing in a national event.”
The Scottish champion will represent Canada at the women’s world curling championships from March 18-26 in Sandviken, Sweden.
Also on Wednesday, Curling Canada announced that the 2023 PointsBet Invitational will be played from September 26 to October 2. 1 at the Sixteen Mile Sports Complex in Oakville, Ontario.
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