Home is where the heart is, and it’s also the subject of a new regulation for Canadian curlers, who will have greater flexibility in choosing which province they represent.
Curling Canada has taken a shot at removing the fuss over residency rules, implementing "birthright status" that allows, for example, a player born in Manitoba to represent the province even if he or she has moved away.
The change kicks in for the 2019-20 curling season and affects all men’s and women’s provincial/territorial playdowns, as well as the national Brier and Scotties Tournament of Hearts championships. Teams are still eligible to curl with one import — a "free agent" from another province — but the rest of the crew must either be current residents or have birthright status.
Six-time Canadian champion and Olympic gold medallist Jennifer Jones says it’s a positive step as curling gets with the times.
"I just think the way the world is going, people move a lot more than they used to. People go away to school. It’s nice that people don’t have to choose between pursuing their dreams in sport and things happening in their lives," said the former Winnipegger, who now lives in Shanty Bay, Ont., but continues to skip a team out of the St. Vital club. "If they want to pursue (life) somewhere else, they can still maintain their curling team.
"There’s so many reasons you might move nowadays. I think of all the young people that are having to make difficult decisions or (find) a new curling team in a new province. This just allows them some consistency. So, it’s for all levels of playing. A lot of people born and raised in a province may want to continue to represent that province, or they may want to move away and represent another province. This at least gives them that flexibility."
The rule currently has no bearing on Jones, who made her 14th appearance at the national Scotties in February in Sydney, N.S. She’s considered the import, while her teammates — third Kaitlyn Lawes, second Jocelyn Peterman and lead Dawn McEwen — live in Winnipeg. Peterman quit her job and moved east from Alberta last year.
The rule does, however, clear things up for Rachel Homan’s team. The Ottawa foursome came under fire last season when the skip attended school in Edmonton, while her second, Joanne Courtney, the designated import, was also living in the Alberta capital.
"It’s a reality for many curlers that school, work and family may require moving outside their birth province, and this rule change will help athletes balance curling excellence with the freedom to make career, education and life choices," Lisa Weagle, Homan’s longtime lead, said in an email to the Free Press.
The Homan team left the 2018 Winter Olympics without a medal but rebounded with a sensational 2018-19 season before losing the Scotties final to Chelsea Carey of Calgary in late February.
With the new rule in place, Carey, a former Winnipegger, could live out west but skip a team based out of her old hometown, if she so desired.
Gerry Peckham, Curling Canada’s high-performance director, said the idea of allowing two imports on a team was initially discussed, but provinces and territories felt, at least for now, that wasn’t the right option.
He said the new rule helps strike a balance between the needs of high-performance athletes and the traditions of the game — for now.
"To represent Canada, generally speaking, all that’s required is Canadian citizenship in a variety of sports. Whether it’s world championships or Olympic Games, our athletes are often located in a variety of places around the world and then put the Maple Leaf on their back to go off and represent Canada without any kind of provincial or territorial residency requirement as an additional layer," he said. "Curling is going to have to take a look down the road a little bit and see to what degree our residency rules still hold up.
"We love the tradition and culture of the interprovincial/territorial competition. I think that is what’s always made the Brier and the Scotties quite unique. But we also have to maintain pace with what’s going on in the rest of the world, we have to stay competitive and, therefore, we may have to be a little more flexible with regard to how we look at residence-related criteria."
Claiming birthright status is not a lifetime commitment. It’s a season-to-season thing, so curlers may compete in their home province next winter and then switch to the province/territory in which they reside the following season.
Athletes who claim the birthright status can still compete in playdowns for other events such as mixed and mixed doubles where they live.
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).
Updated on Tuesday, June 11, 2019 at 9:46 PM CDT: Full write through, final version.
June 12, 2019 at 8:05 AM: Corrects cutline