Sunday, April 18, 2010

Proposed rule changes for wheelchair curling need further study

Prior to the World Curling Federation's meeting in Cortina April 7th, a lengthy document was circulated detailing proposed changes to the eligibility rules for wheelchair curling. The document attempted to describe in highly tyechnical language exactly what degree of disability would be necessary for an athlete to become eligible to compete in WCF sanctioned events such as the World Championships and the Paralympic Games.

The document attempted to draw a line somewhere between full-time wheelchair user and able-bodied, that included everyone with a significant disability affecting their lower limbs or gait such that a wheelchair would be necessary for them to curl.

The regulations would have to be sufficiently specific and clear to allow eligibility of athletes to be determined by a classifier, but also in the event of a dispute, provide objective criteria for an appeal panel to judge a classification decision.

At present there is no appeal protocol: the original classifier's opinion is final.

Under the new proposal, curlers would be given a designation of qualified, or not qualified, or qualified subject to future review. Decisions to accept or reject an athlete could be appealed to a panel of two classifiers not involved in the original decision.

It has, however, proven more complicated than expected to draw up clear and acceptable eligibility criteria, and the language in the original proposal was not accepted at the meeting and will be reviewed. The delay may mean that the new WCF rule book, due in June, will again not contain a procedure for appeal of an eligibility assessment.

This issue should be seen in the context of Michael McCreadie's concerns that wheelchair curling is fast becoming a sport played by amputees and low level paraplegics to the exclusion of more significantly disabled wheelchair users, and against the guiding principles of Paralympic sport.

Is it better for the future of wheelchair curling that the widest possible pool of potential participants be eligible to compete, or should it be. at least at the international level, a sport inclusive of a range of disabilities requiring wheelchair use? Is the decision different for countries with few facilities than for Canada with many?

Wheelchair curling administrators are already discovering that the definition of wheelchair user is complicated and subjective; and that's just the beginning.

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