Sunday, August 3, 2008

Who should be eligible to curl from a wheelchair?

This deceptively simple question proved controversial, at least in Canada, during the 2007/8 season. Jim Armstrong, a 6-time Brier competitor whose curling career ended through injury, was declared eligible for wheelchair curling by a Canadian sports classifier perhaps more familiar with wheelchair basketball.

Opposition to that decision appeared to surprise the CCA, and ended in a rebuke by the World Curling Federation, who felt their eligibility rules requiring wheelchair use for daily mobility, clearly disqualified the ambulant Armstrong. Although presently ineligible for international competition, Armstrong was chosen by CurlBC coach Melissa Soligo to skip the BC team that went on to win the 2008 Canadian National Championships.

This summer the CCA has adopted several major WCF rules of competition changes, and has solicited advice on a definition of athlete eligibility that strikes a balance between inclusion and maintaining the integrity of the sport.

National champions in wheelchair curling (unlike regular curling) do not become Team Canada so WCF eligibility rules need not apply (although different eligibility rules would be an additional impediment to equal treatment in the future.)

Different wheelchair sports adopt different procedures, but a general principle is to provide opportunity for participation that would be impossible without a wheelchair. Is wheelchair curling merely curling from a wheelchair, or should it be limited to those reliant on a wheelchair, and if so, to what degree? And where does the increasingly popular stick curling format come in?

Where is the optimal eligibility setting on the continuum between "anyone sitting in a wheelchair" and "person requiring a wheelchair for daily mobility"? The former eliminates the temptation to stretch the rules, while possibly discouraging those who after all are the target audience - wheelchair users. The latter excludes those denied the opportunity to participate in organised curling by virtue of their physical circumstances, but who are not technically "wheelchair-based."

I would exclude those ambulant enough to participate in stick curling, but include those using braces and crutches, or who have an unsteady gait necessitating a wheelchair on-ice, but who chose not to use a wheelchair in their daily lives.

These distinctions only matter when deciding criteria for the Canadian National Championships. Play at local and club level can and should answer to the desires of those willing to be involved. For a national championship there has to be clear eligibility rules to ensure fairness.

Here then is my suggestion for eligibility to play in the Canadian Wheelchair Curling Championships:

To be eligible to play in competitions leading to participation in the Canadian Wheelchair Curling Championships, a player must be restricted in their mobility such that they are unable to deliver a curling stone without the use of a wheelchair.

Interpretation: Although wheelchair curling is intended to be played by people who use wheelchairs for their daily mobility, it should not exclude those unable to participate in stick curling because they are unable to safely deliver a rock while standing.

What do you think? You can contribute to a discussion on this topic by adding a comment to this entry at the Wheelchair Curling Blog.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

The only true way to answer this question and lay it to rest both on the Canadian level and the WCF level is to implement what ever other wheelchair sport has....a classification system. By the virtue of adopting a classification system not only does it answer the eligibity question but also allows for all disiabilities to participate on an equal playing field against those with the same disiability type.

It is used by ever other wheelchair sport, why not wheelchair curling?

Fact is; the IPC (international paralympic committee) has just reviewed the classification methods for all sports and requires classification be implemented in all wheelchair sports for this very reason. To prevent misuse of the systems!

Bruce Cameron said...

That "rule" seems to me to be fair.I believe it should increase the number of wheelchair curlers, albeit the average age of wheelchair curlers would drastically increase. The experience of those new curlers would be an asset to the sport. Why do I say this? I see the natural evolution of curlers as they age....no longer able to deliver from the hack...no longer able to deliver safely with a stick....now a wheelchair. I also see only the passionate curlers going through this entire evolution and then only those in the finacial position to have a wheelchair only for curling. Just because you can not deliver a curling rock safely with a stick does not mean that you require a wheelchair for daily mobility. To gain the full potential of this type of "rule", the CCA will have to abandon its "hand picked" method of chosing Team Canada and the WCF will have to "soften" and/or change its stand on the current rule. The concept has merit but it also has some pitfalls....who is going to determine who can or can not through a curling stone safely with a stick......I will leave you with that thought...
Bruce Cameron

Anonymous said...

Eric:

Seems that your proposal identifies the balance between inclusion and acceptable exclusion (wheelchair NECESSITY on ice). I might suggest that anyone on the "fringe" of inclusion be required to provide an ACCEPTABLE medical form, to be approved by a CCA cerified medical assessor.

Let's get on with growing our neophyte sport!

Anonymous said...

WCF and Paralympics are all about performance and should have the best performers on the ice to ensure we can provide a spectacle for the world to admire, elite performers on a world stage, exciting and the best there is.

Participation is a completely different issue and we should allow everyone to play and compete locally and even Nationally if good enough. The moment we use a classification system for our International selection means teams will no longer be selected on ability and the "performances" will decline to the ultimate detriment of the sport.

[name withheld by request]

Eric Eales said...

An anonymous comment on the previous post has been rejected because of gratuitously insulting language. The poster is invited to resubmit their comment or contact me at eric@wheelchaircurling.com to discuss this decision.