Curlers ask for transparency and communication after pregnancy exemption uproar


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A Canadian interim rep for the Curling Players' Association has renewed a call for improved transparency and collaboration with Curling Canada after an uproar about pregnancy exemption rules resulted in an about-face from the organization.

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A Canadian interim rep for the Curling Players’ Association has renewed a call for improved transparency and collaboration with Curling Canada after an uproar about pregnancy exemption rules resulted in an about-face from the organization.

“This is a classic example of a situation where I think if the players had been consulted, we might have come to a better ruling earlier,” Team Homan’s Emma Miskew said Monday.

After three days of outcry from several high-profile curlers, Curling Canada changed its exemption rule last Friday so that any team in this year’s 18-team national championship field could apply.

The federation initially allowed just the top five teams in the national rankings to consider adding an out-of-province curler as a replacement for a pregnant player.

Some players, including Casey Scheidegger – just outside the cutline at No. 6 – said they only learned of the option when Curling Canada issued a news release last Tuesday to unveil the Scotties Tournament of Hearts draw and schedule.

By Thursday, Curling Canada had changed its policy to include all teams starting at the 2024 national playdowns. A day later, amid continued criticism, the organization took it a step further and allowed all 2023 Scotties teams to apply.

“The players in general in Canada were not consulted or it wasn’t brought to a lot of people’s attention prior,” Miskew told The Canadian Press from Ottawa. “I think that’s the biggest problem that we have in the sport right now is that so many decisions are made and the players are just told.

“They’re not asked for their opinion. It’s not just about this, it’s about everything.”

Curling Canada unveiled an initiative in September 2021 to enhance the high-performance consultation process with athletes. Ten elite-level curlers – including Brendan Bottcher, Jocelyn Peterman and Shannon Birchard – are involved with Amy Nixon serving as board liaison.

In an email, a Curling Canada spokesman said there was a conference call with athletes in mid-December on the exemption subject.

Details on the communication process with the dozens of players in the field weren’t provided. The Scotties field wasn’t finalized until late January once the provincial and territorial championships were completed.

Miskew, a three-time national champion, said curlers often learn about rule tweaks, competition adjustments and policy changes after they’ve been made. Her group hopes that communication with all parties will improve, but the association is still in its formative stages and has only had initial interactions with federations.

Miskew, Sweden’s Niklas Edin and Switzerland’s Silvana Tirinzoni are among the group’s leadership. The association has yet to set a vote date for board elections and athlete recruitment is ongoing.

Under residency rules, at least three of four players on a team must live or have birthright status in their respective province or territory. Only one free agent is allowed unless an exemption is granted.

The fourth-ranked team skipped by Kaitlyn Lawes was granted an exemption last week. The Winnipeg-based team will use Edmonton’s Laura Walker as a replacement for Selena Njegovan, who was granted a pregnancy leave.

No other team applied for an exemption over the weekend, the Curling Canada spokesman said.

There has also been plenty of reaction to the organization’s decision to not allow Njegovan to support her team at ice level during the Scotties while she’s on leave.

Njegovan, who’s due in late March, has clearance to travel and the team announced last week that she planned to join coach Lisa Weagle on the bench to support her teammates.

In an unusual inclusion in its news release last week, Curling Canada said Njegovan was not expected to travel to the event in Kamloops, B.C. The organization later said that she would be provided an accreditation to enter the arena but would only be allowed to participate in off-ice activities.

In a Twitter post, Team Horgan lead Colin Hodgson said he was surprised to learn she wouldn’t be allowed access to athlete areas.

“What are we afraid of having a team member who qualified for the Scotties who’s pregnant not to be on the bench? Hearing in a press release shows the lack of communication,” he tweeted.

Miskew said she thought the decision went “way too far.”

“I don’t understand why (she) can’t sit on the bench and be a part of team activities and be a part of the team,” she said.

Njegovan, meanwhile, has called the decision “upsetting” and is undecided on whether she’ll make the trip west.

“It all appears to be made up as they go. PLEASE SHARE POLICIES EARLIER,” Hodgson said on Twitter.

The national playdowns are scheduled for Feb. 17-26. The Scotties champion will represent Canada at the March 18-26 world championship in Sandviken, Sweden.

“I think what we saw in the last week is there appears to be room for feedback,” said former Team Homan member Joanne Courtney, now an analyst for TSN. “But at the end of the day, the rules are the rules and the governing body is the governing body.

“So I think it’ll be interesting to see (how) that develops and how appeals are made and where everything shakes down from there. It’s obviously in flux and the situation is very dynamic.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 6, 2023.

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

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