I've been getting emails asking whether the current selection process for Team Canada should be changed to the traditional "win to play" system used in the able-bodied game: if you win a national championship you become Team Canada with the perks and responsibilities that go with that title.
We have just finished a funding cycle where the importance of winning a gold medal overrode all other considerations, though proponents of selection dispute that there is a useful distinction between what is good for Canada's medal prospects and what is good for the sport as a whole.
As we approach a new quadrennial, there is an opportunity for participants in wheelchair curling to say whether there should be change.
Opponents of the current national squad system argue that moving away from curling's traditional "win to play" method of Team Canada selection discriminates against wheelchair users on the basis of their disability. It prevents them from having the same opportunity to represent their country, by winning a provincial and then national title, as able-bodied curlers.
The present selection system stresses the importance of a successful national team in generating funding, some of which, says the CCA's Gerry Peckham, trickles down to aid the development of the sport at the grassroots. He feels that selection is necessary if Canada is to field the strongest possible team and have the best possible chance for success on the world stage, and disputes the notion that having a separate system for Canada's wheelchair curlers is discriminatory.
He notes that all other countries select their teams and Canada needs to field a team that can successfully compete against them. Over the next couple of years he hopes national coaches will be spending more time working with wheelchair curlers across the country, and will be looking for those individuals with the skills to join the high performance pool."
Does national team selection help or hinder grass roots participation? Would proponents of "win to play" be prepared to forgo funding from organizations such as Own The Podium predicated on a selection system? How would the winner of a national championship have time and resources to prepare for a World Championship, even if the Canadian Nationals were scheduled before the Worlds? (The 2011 Nationals are scheduled a month after the 2011 Worlds.)
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I have always been a proponent of individual team formation at the provincial level, and for wheelchair teams to be offered the same opportunities granted to able-bodied curling teams. Most countries are satisfied with just enough wheelchair curlers to qualify for World Curling Federation events. But Canada has the facilities, resources, nation-wide coaching and pool of potential curlers to allow an internationally competitive team to qualify through a national championship.
Policies for the sport are decided at the CCA's Annual General Meeting coming up in June. Every province sends representatives who vote on motions presented to that meeting. If you have an opinion on how our sport should be organised, discuss it here, but also make your opinions known to your provincial association. They represent you, and can't know what you think unless you tell them.
If you have formed a wheelchair curling association affiliated to your provincial association, make sure your association's views are reported to your province and then to the CCA's AGM.
If the principles governing the organization of Team Canada are to change, now is the time for that to happen. The present system has produced titles. It has not driven participation across Canada. Would a change of method in selecting Team Canada change that? Would the sport grow from the present 20 or 25 teams nationally, or would, as Peckham noted, it shrink as is happening in all other areas of curling as curlers realise that only elite teams can hope to succeed?
Let those making the decisions for the next four years know how the people who play and support our sport feel about its future direction.