Curling Canada under fire over limiting eligibility for pregnancy exemptions
Rules of Residence. Exceptions in case of pregnancy. confusion, questions and anger.
A press release from Curling Canada intended to confirm the draw for the women’s national championship instead sparked debate about inclusion, equality and options for teams with pregnant players.
Prominent curlers from across the country this week called on the national sporting body to formulate and create an exemption allowing only teams in the top five to compete.
When a fourth-place team managed to land an out-of-province free agent to replace a player who was nearing her due date, questions about the rules — along with some harsh criticism — began to roll.
“I’m a little disheartened to see that the rule in Canada really seems to only favor the elite,” said sixth-place finisher Casey Scheidegger, one of three wildcards at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.
Scheidegger and her sister Jessie Haughian are both pregnant and due in June.
However, because the Alberta-based team is outside the top 5, they were not eligible to request the same exemption granted to the team skipped by fourth-placed Kaitlyn Lawes under federation rules.
“We’re also number 6 and not knowing anything about that and finding out yesterday I think was interesting to see that announcement,” Scheidegger told The Canadian Press on Wednesday. “Of course, I think the most striking thing about the rule is that it just seems unequal.”
Her sister also spoke up via Twitter.
The team, which already has an import player in Manitoba’s Kate Hogan, planned to add Kristie Moore as a backup. Moore, a 2010 Olympic gold medalist from Grande Prairie, Alta., has played with the team on several occasions over the past few seasons.
With Haughian experiencing occasional aches and pains, Scheidegger said she’s glad Moore is available and expects to see plenty of playing time.
“Would we have applied for the exemption? Possibly,” said Scheidegger of Lethbridge, Alta. “I don’t think it was made an option for us. So we complied with the stay rules as we thought that would be available for us.”
“Elitism” and “Favouritism”
Under these residency rules, at least three out of four players must reside in their respective province or territory, or have birthright status. Only one free agent is allowed per team unless an exception is granted.
Lawes, Vice Selena Njegovan and Lead Kristin MacCuish are based in Winnipeg while Jocelyn Peterman is the import from Calgary. Curling Canada granted Njegovan maternity leave and allowed Edmonton-based free agent Laura Walker to replace her.
Because their ranking was within the cutline, that team was eligible to request a “pregnancy waiver that allowed them to add a free agent player for the national Scotties who didn’t participate in their provincial/territorial playdowns,” Curling said Canada in its free.
Despite that wording, Curling Canada CEO Kathy Henderson said that it’s not actually a pregnancy exemption, but a “residence exemption” and that parental leave is available to anyone who requests it.
She added that the decision to limit eligibility to just five teams was not arbitrary.
“It wasn’t like we were leaving anyone out,” Henderson told Canadian Press from Toronto. “What we have been looking at is patterns over time, who are the teams that traditionally receive funding from our national team programme.
“We really dared to do that.”
As a result, 13 of the 18 teams that qualified for the Feb. 17-26 event in Kamloops, BC were unable to apply to make similar roster changes if needed because they are not in the top five.
Several notable curlers — including Olympian Dawn McEwen, Mike McEwen, Felix Asselin and Beth Peterson — took to social media to criticize the eligibility rule.
“Timing a pregnancy can be stressful and difficult for many female athletes,” Dawn McEwen said on Twitter. “A rule that discriminates against some women competing in the same national field is troubling.
“Please give everyone an equal chance at Curling Canada.”
Timing a pregnancy can be stressful and difficult for many female athletes. A rule that discriminates against some women competing in the same national field is worrying. Please give everyone the same chance @CurlingCanada pic.twitter.com/YFSSAj0YBR
Walker is focused on mixed doubles this season but has occasionally subbed in for Team Lawes. But her encore with the Scotties would not have been possible if Lawes had finished sixth or lower.
Asselin, who will skip the Quebec entry on Tim Horton’s Brier next month, called the rule an example of “elitism” and “favoritism.”
“All hair curlers should be allowed to be replaced in the event of pregnancy by someone who follows all residence rules[s]’ Asselin tweeted. “That can’t be an excuse to add an import. That’s very sad.”
rules and laws https://t.co/KStMpYwEOD
Leaderboards provide a solid picture of team performance, but aren’t necessarily the best measure of ability or potential. Many teams miss out on major points-earning events due to a limited travel schedule or a desire to only play select Bon games.
For example, the 2022 Scotties were won by frontrunner Kerri Einarson of Manitoba, who defeated Northern Ontario’s Krista McCarville – currently 61st in the rankings – in the finals.
Einarson had advanced with a semifinal win over New Brunswick’s Andrea Kelly, who is now 16th.
In the current ranking, Einarson (284,750 points) leads Rachel Homan (270,750) of Ontario, Jennifer Jones (206,000) of Manitoba, Lawes (183,250) and Clancy Grandy (166,625) of British Columbia.
Peterson, who made her Scotties debut in 2021, also weighed in on the rule via Twitter.
“I’m sorry, but isn’t that disrespectful to other pregnant women?” she tweeted. “I just can’t keep up with giving exceptions to some teams and not to others.”
Some curlers compete while pregnant – Homan was memorably eight months pregnant when she reached the 2021 Scotties Final – but sometimes substitutes are needed.
Scheidegger called the exception part of the press release a “very strange thing for me to read”.
“We have so many teams that could be in a very similar situation and are looking for a player,” she said. “Obviously you want a player who will make your team strong, especially when you’re playing in a national event.”
The Scotties Champion will represent Canada at the Women’s Curling World Championships March 18-26 in Sandviken, Sweden.
Also on Wednesday, Curling Canada announced that the 2023 PointsBet Invitational will be held from September 26th to October 10th. 1 at the Sixteen Mile Sports Complex in Oakville, Ontario.