There is a train crash approaching Scottish curling and their names may very well be Anna and Ben Fowler. OK – maybe it will not be the Fowlers, but it will be someone of their ilk.
“And who,” I hear you ask, “are the Fowlers?”
Ben is a keen young curler from England. He skipped his school team, Judd, to victory in the English schools curling championships at Fenton’s rink. Mark this next bit well: twenty four teams entered the championships from seventeen different schools. Curling in England, my friends, is no longer the domain of the expat Scot anxious to throw a few stones; curling is being taken up by a new group of young enthusiasts, some of whom will doubtless go on to represent their country with pride in championships to come.
These youngsters are keen enough on the game that we Scots exported to the rest of the world, to travel abroad and compete in international competitions. He and his team of Harry Mallows, Matt Spicer and Oliver Kendall travelled to Lockerbie in December to compete in the Lockerbie Junior Invitation tournament. They were accompanied by a ladies team skipped by Ben’s sister, Anna Fowler, with Hetty Garnier, Naomi Robinson and Angharad Ward.
Later in the season, Anna took a team to the European Junior Curling Challenge in Prague. She skipped Hetty Garnier, Angharad Ward, Lauren Pearce and alternate Naomi Robinson to three wins. They ran eventual winners of the competition, Norway, close and were right in the game all the way until they gave up a three in the seventh end of their game. Meanwhile, Ben skipped Harry Mallows, Ben Alexander, Matt Spicer and alternate Oliver Kendall to one victory in their competition. Given their age, there is potential there for teams to grow from that pioneering cadre of young curlers into seriously competitive curlers on the European and world stage.
So why do I compare them to an Inter City 125 bearing down on Scottish curling at top speed?
Well, for the answer, we need to pay heed to something that an old friend of mine, JohnJo Kenny, has been warning us about these past few years on the Scottish Curling Forum. I once described it as curling’s very own West Lothian question and it raised its head again when the recently announced changes to the qualification process for the World Championships was announced. At the moment, GB gains its right to compete at the Olympics by virtue of Scotland’s performance at the World Championship. That system will continue for the next Olympic cycle, although there are far-reaching changes also announced for World Championship qualification; more of that in a later blog, perhaps.
So there we jolly were are, five years down the line, and Scotland are competing in the last round-robin game against England, or maybe Wales. If they win, they get to compete in next year’s World Championships. If they fail to win, they are relegated to a qualifying competition. And GB’s entry into the Olympic Games depends upon success at the Worlds.
And let’s just say that you are Ireland, or Denmark or France and that you are in that mix as well. And you are looking at England face off against the Olympic-point- gathering nation for GB participation.
Level playing field? Are you happy?
I didn’t think so.
It is a real, real problem that somehow needs to be addressed by the High Heid Yins pretty soon. And I just do not see a way around it, if I am honest. It genuinely is not fair and cannot be allowed to continue just as soon as one of the other home nations gets themselves up to a level where they are competing regularly at World Championships.
Football’s answer to this question has been very simple. The authorities have refused to allow teams to compete for GB in the Olympic Games for a number of years. Their attitude to the situation is that anything that might call into question the home nations’ right to compete as individual nations in other championships must not be allowed. So they do not enter the competition.
Is that an option for the curling authorities in GB? It doesn’t look like it, does it? Massive funding and support; jobs; winter games medal opportunities every cycle; arousal of interest in the sport; growth of the sport – all of these things seem to be tied in to continued support of participation in the Olympic Games so, despite the protestations of many curlers, perhaps most notably Pennan’s own David Kelly, I do not think that is an option.
JohnJo pondered that perhaps GB will enter a team for the World Championship that is essentially picked annually from a squad of talented curlers, relegating Scotland’s place in World curling to an annual appearance at the European Championships. Helpmaboab if that happens, dear reader! The World Championships started over fifty years ago as an annual competition between the champion rinks of Canada and ... Scotland! For one of the founder countries to be withdrawn from that competition to allow the continued participation of GB in the Olympic Games would be one step too far for this curmudgeon, let me tell you! Yet, I fear that is where we may end up.
Who said, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch?” They were right, you know.