Saturday, November 21, 2009

Fairness demands two-tier participation - Michael McCreadie


Team GB skip Michael McCreadie, seen here at 2009 Worlds
photo - Yadranka

Team Great Britain skip Michael McCreadie is one of the world's most experienced wheelchair curlers, with decades of participation in other wheelchair sports. He feels that the time has come for the introduction of a two-tier classification that will force inclusion of more severely disabled wheelchair users onto teams competing under WCF rules.

"The original rule is a real strength of wheelchair curling. The game was established for players who use a wheelchair for “daily mobility”. Players within the sport, in my view, wish that original ethos to be maintained and strengthened," he says in a discussion document being circulated prior to the WCF semi-annual meeting set for Aberdeen in December to discuss possible rule changes..

"I am aware," he continues, "that classification attempts to confirm player eligibility and then seeks to assign individual players to a sports specific class. I believe the time is right for Chief Classifier (Dr Andrew Burt) and other experienced classifiers to identify minimum disability criteria for our sport as opposed to classification on a player by player basis."

He then proposes a radical change of rule regarding participation. Teams playing under WCF rules would be forced to include more severely disabled wheelchair users, the people at present being excluded from national teams focused solely on fielding the best athletes, rather than considering encouraging participation at all levels of disability.

"Most teams currently comprise of the most able wheelchair curlers who use a wheelchair for daily mobility. In the beginning there was the opportunity for more severely disabled players to compete for national team places. As the sport has developed across the world and the quality of play has improved, the most physically able players have started to dominate," McCreadie says.

"In the absence of divisioning within the classification system tetraplegic players, players who use power wheelchairs and those with cerebral palsy will continue to be non competitive in the current open class system. I believe the time is right to introduce fairness into the sport along the lines of what currently exists in team boccie (teams comprise of at least one class 1 player). Each team should in the future include one player who qualifies for a class that is representative of more severely physically disabled players. It may be as simple as introducing two classes into the sport for all players who are eligible. Class 1 would be the open class for all eligible players. Class 2 would be for players who are tetraplegic, players who are in the advanced stages of MS, some players with cerebral palsy or players with severe upper limb weakness or limb loss etc.

"I am not an expert in this area but I am certain that experienced classifiers could come up with appropriate profiles. In speaking to fellow national and international players I believe there is support for the introduction of a two tier system of classification that encourages, develops and retains the involvement of wheelchair players with more severe physical impairments while at the same time ensuring it retains its original aim of being a sport for non ambulant players only."



It is undeniable that where teams are selected by national associations seeking the best chance for a medal in return for their financial support, wheelchair curling has become a sport geared to the most athletic. Indeed, it was specifically mandated by Canada's "Own The Podium" program, a major funder, that the selectors choose the best available athletes, and then coach them to excellence.

The question is whether that is bad for the sport, and if it is, does mandating inclusion of players of less physical strength serve a useful purpose? Michael thinks that it does.

"It's all about participation, Eric," he told me when I expressed some scepticism about his solution. "We have to avoid the idea that unless you are some super-fit paraplegic or amputee, then it's not worth trying wheelchair curling because you have no chance of being selected for representational play."

But even if one agrees that allowing coaches and selectors to exclude all but the best athletes is bad for the overall development of the sport, is creating artificial categories beyond stating minimum wheelchair usage requirements a plausible solution?

It is worth noting that Germany's 2009 World Championship bronze medalists included a third, Marcus Sieger, who because of his level of disability would probably not have been considered for Canada, or Scotland, or Norway or for any of the teams centrally selected. He won his place because Team Germany were essentially a self-selected club side. Yet it would be hard to imagine that a physically stronger draftee would have performed more valuably.

(I admit to a prejudice against classification. I don't like the idea of being defined as a smaller percentage of someone else. I'd rather be 100% me. I also suspect classifications are at best subjective and at worst corrupting.)

The actual proposal for changing eligibility, to be presented by WCF vice-President Kate Caithness at the December meeting, suggests expanding participation beyond users who require a wheelchair for daily mobility, to include anyone with (specified) significant ambulatory impairments who is unable to curl without using a wheelchair.

My response to Michael's exclusion concerns would be to set a minimum wheelchair usage requirement and do away with central selection, which is the engine of exclusion, even at the cost of financial support for the favoured few.

Allow teams to come together, and those with the ability and ambition will find the resources to fulfil their dreams. The present system makes athletes nationalistic totems, surrogates for the political ambitions of their associations or the careers of their coaches. So maybe selection wins your country a medal. A week later, who other than the athletes, their parents and their enablers, cares?

You can read the full text of Michael's document, as written, as the first comment below. A response by Judy Mackenzie follows.

16 comments:

Michael McCreadie said...

WHEELCHAIR CURLING

• The original rule is a real strength of wheelchair curling. The game was established for players who use a wheelchair for “daily mobility”. Players within the sport, in my view, wish that original ethos to be maintained and strengthened. There is no doubt that this original rule requires to be revisited and I welcome the suggested changes.

• The new rule incorporates the original rule and identifies four player types with specific impairment whom I feel fit comfortably within the profile of the original rule.

• I am aware that classification attempts to confirm player eligibility and then seeks to assign individual players to a sports specific class. I believe the time is right for Chief Classifier (Dr Andrew Burt) and other experienced classifiers to identify minimum disability criteria for our sport as opposed to classification on a player by player basis. The suggested new rule addresses amputee players in the main but what about those with spinal injuries, progressive conditions (MS), cerebral palsy, etc.? Perhaps there should be clear eligibility criteria across all impairment groups. If not all impairment groups then the major groups represented across the wheelchair curling playing nations.

• Most teams currently comprise of the most able wheelchair curlers who use a wheelchair for daily mobility. In the beginning there was the opportunity for more severely disabled players to compete for national team places. As the sport has developed across the world and the quality of play has improved, the most physically able players have started to dominate. In the absence of divisioning within the classification system tetraplegic players, players who use power wheelchairs and those with cerebral palsy will continue to be non competitive in the current open class system. I believe the time is right to introduce fairness into the sport along the lines of what currently exists in team boccia (teams comprise of at least one class 1 player). Each team should in the future include one player who qualifies for a class that is representative of more severely physically disabled players. It may be as simple as introducing two classes into the sport for all players who are eligible. Class 1 would be the open class for all eligible players. Class 2 would be for players who are tetraplegic, players who are in the advanced stages of MS, some players with cerebral palsy or players with severe upper limb weakness or limb loss etc. I am not an expert in this area but I am certain that experienced classifiers could come up with appropriate profiles. In speaking to fellow national and international players I believe there is support for the introduction of a two tier system of classification that encourages, develops and retains the involvement of wheelchair players with more severe physical impairments while at the same time ensuring it retains its original aim of being a sport for non ambulant players only.

Hope the above comments are useful and I am happy to discuss them with you further.

Judy Mackenzie said...

[ED: part of Judy's response was integrated into Michael's text, and the editing features of the comments section are not sophisticated enough to mark who said what, so those comments have been ommited. Essentially she felt that national teams should put the best (qualified) players on the ice.)

Hi Michael

Thank you for sending me your very able discussion document.

As you will see from my comments, I am not entirely in favour of your suggestion of inclusion of a class 2 curler in an international team, unless by merit.

I think your proposal is needing to be discussed a lot more before anything more is done.

I am sure there will be more comment!-----and so there should be!

Cheers, Judy

[integrated comments ommited]

Remembering that we are talking about WCF rules here and therefore let us take it a stage further. Already under WCF rules, you must have mixed gender on the rink which may give a problem with selection of your alternate. Introduce the necessity to play a class 2 then you require to consider also a class 2 alternate to fulfill on ice player requirements and support. How many countries could support that level of personnel in International competition?.

In basic terms I have no objection to class 1 and class 2 as distinctions but until the numbers increase and competitions can be trialled locally to include specifically 1 or perhaps 2 curlers of class 2 , then please let us maintain the status quo.

In International competition the sport of Curling deserves the best players, to take to the ice, who fulfill the laid down criteria of use of a wheelchair for daily mobility, regardless of their level of disability.

Judy Mackenzie

Chris D. said...

Dear Micheal

I love it!, I have been saying this for years and even proposed a classification system 4 years ago.

If you would like the document to support you I would be most happy to send it to you.

Just find my email on my website!

Anonymous said...

Interesting concept, in theory. However, I have to agree with Judy. Some National teams would simply be excluded for lack of a Class 1 player at this point in time. Keep the concept alive, but we have to hav a much larger pool of players before this makes sense.

Dr. Matt Dwyer said...

Lack of a class 1....bulls&*T

When this sport started it was meant to have Quads (class 1's) playing.

And they did, only though the lack of a classification system have we seen the lack of Quads and other more disabled playing.

Countries like Cnada pushed NON disabled like Jim Armstrong into the sport and the disabled out.

Classification...about time. Bring it on!

Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to hear what Jim Armstrong has to say about the proposed nw eligibility rules. Seems it has almowt been taylored to allow people with his permanent chronic disabilities.

Jim Taylor - Scotland said...

I agree with Michael's concept as the ideal goal but also Judy's comments about more player numbers before implemented. Interesting.
Now if the WCF did away with the female rule - after all curling is skill not sexist - financial constraints would be less onerous and indeed requirement of taking 2 females to WCF events abolished - only there as cover for ilness. Michael's long term goal is correct once player numbers allow and perhaps re-visit female code - as if good enough sex doesn't matter.

Jim T said...

Can the sporting numbers sustain say 2 teams with different categories currently. How would it be financed? Travel and nursing would be a huge cost implication for 'more' disabled.
Merit is a great carrot. Ideally Michael's scenario is correct and should be a target - maybe too soon presently but wheels should be put in motion.
What impact would it have if teams didn't need to field a woman and just entered same sex teams or mixed gender teams as wheelchair curling more on disability rather than gender

Eric Eales said...

Kate Caithness, WCF vice-President and very influential in matter of policy pertaining to wheelchair curling, said:

“The biggest day for wheelchair curling was when we made a presentation to the International Paralympic Committee during the 2002 Salt Lake City Games,” she says. “They fell in love with it. What they liked most was the mixed gender aspect. They made a decision right away to include it in the [2006] Turin Games.”

http://fwd4.me/5WZ

Anonymous said...

So when is "enough" enough. I understand the arguement and the issues, but at the end of the day how many classifications are needed to satisfy everyone. And by the way you will never satisfy everyone. The best athlete in the Olympics or Paralympics need to be that first, an athlete. While I realize that physical disabilities will limit this I would hate to see the highest level of cometition compromized for the sake of inclusion. At the end of the day there needs to be the highest level of competition and there also needs to be a larger base playing at the grass roots level. Playing for the love of the game has to come first and the best athletes within their sports will flourish and rise to the top and challenge for the top rewards. We cannot and should not diminish the accomplishments of the best in any field for the sake of inclusion. This would apply to able body athletics as well. Try to tell Kevin Martin he has to take a first time club curler to the Olympic Trials. Just my opinion.....BAD IDEA.

Looking way down the road instead of just ahead.

Anonymous said...

There are the Olympics for the "able body athletes". If they aren't good enough to compete with their peers then they should stick to club sports and not muscle there way into the disabled sports. Wheelchair Rugby doesn't have any trouble excluding those that don't meet their criteria of having to be disabled and they also take all the medical staff that they need along without the feeble argument that it would be too expensive. Either you have a National Program with all that it entails or you don't. I for one am sick and tired of watching the pseudo para athletes trotting into the curling club dragging their chairs behind them.

Anonymous said...

HERE HERE, Above writer, HERE HERE!

Scottish Disability Sport said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lance Claus said...

Wheelchair Curling
Lets think about this for a minute, it shouldn't take even that long.
The key word is Wheelchair
------------
Something like the people I always see at Walmart etc. , that park in our spots go to the trunk and pull out a cane.( if that )Then as soon as they are clear of the lot and are in the store, there off like a rocket( limp miraculously cured )
Wheelchair Curling should be for people that are confined to a wheelchair period. The sport was created so that we can have a game that we can participate in that pits us against our peers of mostly equal abilities ( or disabilties paras quads advanced MS etc.)
If others that can bare weight or walk with a prosthesis want to get their own thing happening, then let them.
They will have their best teams and we will have ours also.
If this means a two teir system and classifications, then so be it.
If it needs to be set up like WC Rugby where by so many points are allowed on the floor at a time then lets do it.
Just my rant.


P.S. if you don,t like what I have to say. Then be stuck in a wheelchair for the rest of your life. You will like this even less.

Laughie Rutt said...

I would like to thank Michael McCreadie for his efforts to see that the game is always reviewed in the view of improvement. Without leaders such as this who put their views out there to be challenged our wheelchair curling game would not have developed to this level. Bravo Michael!

I agree with Michael that the “daily mobility rule” should be examined. Clarity is in order to keep confidence in the system. It is never a bad thing to review as things can change. What was originally thought to be sound thinking might prove not to be sound.

Michael suggests a classification of curlers. In other sports a point value is placed on a specific person and the sport also has a point value aggregate not to be exceeded during play. Michael has not specified either point value systems for individuals or the sport so it is difficult for anyone to be highly critical of his thoughts. He has stressed inclusiveness as a principle he supports.

More than wheelchair curling needs to be inclusive as the other forms of curling need to have inclusiveness as well (Stick Curling and what for the lack of a better name Able Bodied Curling). No one using a stick can now curl in sanctioned events other than Wheelchair or Stick Curling. Statements like the stick gives an advantage is far from the truth. A systemic barrier exists that will someday be challenged in the courts.

For those of who follow golf we remember the controversy of a person with a disability playing in PGA sanctioned events and needing a cart to get from hole to hole. That systemic barrier eventually did not hold up.

The system of classification in other sports is based upon a medical model. By example if you are a complete L3 paraplegic you have this specific value. A person with quadriplegia at C1 level would have this point level. It makes no distinction between men and women (Most are not mixed gender sports). For those of us who have thought about it much we have often rejected the medical model of disability in our everyday lives in favour of the independent living model.

So let us imagine we have picked the number of points for a cumulative team aggregate to play. How do smaller clubs manage the right mix and still be inclusive? How do they get the right mix to have a competitive team.

I have had the opportunity to meet a great many wheelchair curlers and their passion and dedication to the game is remarkable. They come in what might be called different medically functional levels and often unless I can observe them, I never know their functioning level without making assumptions. I do not often care, as we are all curlers.

Michael speaks of guaranteed spots for certain low level functioning persons in the medical model. Add to that or at least make it more complicated by adding in our “women rule”. Then realize that every team will have one really functioning player that would be fairly ambulatory. This person would likely throw the last stones. The one remaining spot would be for all the other curlers. (Who may in fact be the majority in actual numbers) The math appears to be against us as the teams on the ice are so small.

Person who wish to exclude persons from our sport often support classification. This denies the ambulatory persons with disability the place to compete in wheelchair curling. Maybe the rule should be if you can stick curl without the wheelchair you are no longer eligible in the wheelchair curling class. In that regard you cannot curl down a class.

I have toiled for many years to be the best wheelchair curler I can be. It means playing numerous times and honing my skills. I am a person with a significant disability on a medically functioning level. I take pride in playing all comers.

Wheelchair curling would not be the same for me if because of my functional level and getting a low number would mean that some friends and competitors were “outed” by me because of my low number and not my skill. In fact, I would not feel good about myself.

To Michael, Great job at putting this issue out there for everyone to think about!

William B. said...

This issue has been in front of the WCF for over 4 years.

Chris Daw, in conjuction with the CCA wrote a fully classification system including the hand book and classifiers rule book.

Why has this taken so long. The document is available from Chris to whom ever wants it.

I have read it and it is very good. Please email him and I am sure he will send it out.

Chris Daw can be reached at: Chris@chrisdaw.ca

Make very good reading as to where we should have been 4 years ago!