Curling Canada under fire for restricted eligibility for pregnancy exemptions

Curling Canada came under fire Wednesday after it restricted pregnancy exemption eligibility for teams hoping to seed an out-of-province free agent at the national playdowns on only the top five ranked rinks.

The exemption would allow a team to field a substitute at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts even if the athlete did not compete in the provincial/territorial championship or meet residency requirements.

However, the decision meant 13 of the 18 teams that qualified for the Feb. 17-26 event in Kamloops, BC could not bid to make similar roster changes if needed. Several prominent 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 @CurlingCanada.”

Details of the exception were provided in a press release by Curling Canada on Tuesday announcing the Scotties’ draw.

The organization said the wildcard team, skipped by fourth-placed Manitoba’s Kaitlyn Lawes, was allowed to field Laura Walker as a replacement for runner-up Selena Njegovan, who was granted maternity leave.

“The exception only applies to the top five teams because of their limited ability to replace a player with someone of the same level of skill and commitment,” the press release said.

Nolan Thiessen, Curling Canada’s executive director of marketing and fan experience, said the organization has been working with its Athlete Council and leading experts in the field to discuss the concept.

“Every list and every ranking has a limit, and determining where that is can be a difficult process,” he said. “It was understood that there was an exceptionally limited pool of elite athletes who would both qualify as substitute athletes and meet residency requirements for teams in the top five.

“Where teams make reasonable efforts to find a replacement athlete who meets the requirements of the eligibility rules and they are unable to do so, we have outlined that a team may attempt to have a replacement athlete who does not meet those requirements. “

“Elitism” and “Favouritism”

Per 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 unless an exception is granted.

Njegovan, lead Kristin MacCuish and Lawes are based in Winnipeg while Jocelyn Peterman is the import from Calgary.

Edmonton resident Walker is focused on mixed doubles this season, but she has made occasional substitutions for the team. Their addition 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.”

The 2022 Scotties were won by senior Manitoba driver Kerri Einarson.

She beat Northern Ontario’s Krista McCarville in the final – currently ranked 61st. Einarson had advanced with a semifinal win over New Brunswick’s Andrea Kelly, who is now 16th.

Einarson (284,750 points) leads the current rankings ahead of Rachel Homan (270,750) of Ontario, Jennifer Jones (206,000) of Manitoba, Lawes (183,250) and Clancy Grandy (166,625) of British Columbia.

Confusion about rankings

Casey Scheidegger (161,750) of Alberta is sixth and seventh Meghan Walter (160,500) of Manitoba just outside the top five.

“I am confused as to what position/rank in CTRS I have [rankings] has to do with it,” said Scheidegger’s second Jessie Haughian on Twitter. “Pregnancy is pregnancy.”

Peterson, who made her Scotties debut in 2021, also complained about the rule.

“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.

When asked for a deeper explanation as to why only five teams were eligible to request the exemption, Thiessen offered the following via email:

“We consulted with our legal experts and subject matter experts and generally the top five teams are the teams that end up in national team programs funded by Sport Canada and so the rest of the team members are affected and they gave feedback that it was a valid policy change,” he said.

“When we went through that process, we didn’t look at the rankings.”

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.

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