GRANDE PRAIRIE, Alta. -- An event ban on children backstage at the 2016 Scotties Tournament of Hearts is putting some curlers, and their babies, out in the cold.
Organizers have asked mothers competing for Canada’s top curling prize to take their babies a block away to nurse, while some opt to breastfeed in the parking lot.
On Tuesday, Scotties organizers issued an email to all curlers, reminding them children are not allowed backstage at Revolution Place "at any time." The email added mothers with babies are "encouraged" to go to the Grande Prairie Curling Club between draws, which is located about 180 metres from the tournament venue.
The rule poses a challenge for moms of nursing babies. There are several competing in Grande Prairie, including two on Team Nova Scotia; skip Jill Brothers has an 11-month-old baby, while second Blisse Joyce has a nine-month-old son. The team has just learned to work the baby shuffle into their game-day plan, Joyce said.
While the Nova Scotia second said she was glad the Grande Prairie Curling Club offered to host players as a solution, it still adds more pressure between draws.
"It would be nice to have it closer," Joyce said. "Just less trucking them around. With the time between games, it’s tight. It just adds another layer of rushing."
Between pre-game preparation and post-game wrap-ups, each draw can take more than four hours of curlers’ time. If they are playing in back-to-back round-robin draws, that can leave teams with as little as an hour to rest, eat (outside food is also not allowed backstage at Revolution Place), or tend to younger children.
As a result of the time jam, one mother who is competing this week said she has been taking her baby to nurse in a car in the arena’s parking lot between games.
The policy isn’t new, exactly. According to event manager Terry Morris, children have never been allowed backstage at the national women’s championship, a rule made to ensure safety in bustling hallways. It doesn’t always pose a barrier to breastfeeding -- some venues have existing space that can accommodate nursing moms, or a players’ lounge.
But Revolution Place is tight, as far as Scotties arenas go. The backstage extends less than halfway around the venue, whereas in some arenas utility rooms and locker-rooms almost fully surround the bowl. There is no room for a player’s lounge, and there are only two locker-rooms for teams to share before draws.
"This is a small building, there’s no extra rooms," event manager Morris said. "I’ve got every available space in here used. Where am I going to put a nursing mother? Am I going to put her in the dressing room with the other teams? I don’t know if everybody wants that."
Scotties organizers have not consulted with players about whether they would support competitors being able to nurse babies in locker-rooms, Morris added.
For her part, Team Canada skip Jennifer Jones -- a veteran of 12 Scotties appearances, and a mom to three-year-old Isabella -- said she would welcome a solution that would allow curlers to nurse babies on-site.
"Absolutely, if you’re nursing your baby, you should be able to do it," Jones said Wednesday. "There’s not a lot of time between games, and it’s a long time to be away from your baby without nursing. By the time you play your game, it’s four hours.
"There should be a place in this arena where moms can nurse their babies. We’re women curling, we’re female athletes, and this is something that’s important."
It’s a surprising complication in a sport that has a unique capacity to accommodate mothers.
Curling has a long and vibrant tradition of women competing at elite levels far into pregnancy and while their children are nursing. Few sports allow that amount of flexibility to include expectant and new mothers.
In fact, a full third of competitors in the main draw have children aged six or under. That includes three of the four members of Team Canada (Jones) and Team Quebec, half of Ontario and Nova Scotia, and skips from Northern Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Prince Edward Island and British Columbia, among others.
Meanwhile, Scotties organizers must deal with the space they’re given, and in Grande Prairie there isn’t much of that. With that in mind, it’s understandable organizers would have a standing policy to restrict older children from the backstage area.
Babies are different. There must be a better solution than asking women competing for a national championship to either haul infants a block away in the tight space between games or hole up in vehicles in the Alberta cold. The curlers affected may rather accept the policy and adapt than rock the boat. But should they have to?
It doesn’t need to be a lingering issue, and it shouldn’t be too hard to fix. Scotties organizers could start by affirming the importance of accommodating breastfeeding mothers in the field. They could work with the venue and the curlers to find a space, whether in the locker-room or somewhere else on-site.
That small tweak would allow mothers at future Scotties to keep more of their time and focus where it belongs -- preparing for the next match. The curlers who have worked so hard to be here this week and compete for a championship deserve nothing less than that.