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Wheelchair curling? Let's scrap it and start over.

If the WCF were structuring wheelchair curling from scratch, using the experience of the past ten years, the sport would, or perhaps more personally, should look very different. It really doesn't convert from the able-bodied game with any authenticity. Lack of sweeping not only removes a major purpose of the four person team format, but reduces the range of available shots and the possibility for shot accuracy that viewers of regular curling expect.

While shot clocks and time constraints have helped, two and a half hour 8 end games are still lengthy investments in a sport rarely achieving 60% accuracy. Of course, coaches continue to hope that with more and better practice, throwing skills will increase, and at every tournament brave words are spoken at microphones, praising the skill of the competitors as we spectators remember the shots that succeed while quickly forgetting the underthrows and overthrows.

It is my feeling that accuracy levels have plateaued for the best wheelchair curlers, at a point far below what can be achieved when using brooms.

Wheelchair curling in Canada is in a difficult place. It has failed to capture the imagination of wheelchair users, perhaps because for many there is just too much on-ice down time. The sport is driven by the perceived requirement to field a competitive national team, forcing inappropriate 4 person mixed gender teams that stifle growth while coaches pretend that performance will continue to improve given time.

The national team is run as a private club with no public or plausible pathway to membership for anyone outside of the small group of Western Canadians presently serviced with money and coaching to win medals.

But that offers an opportunity for the rest of Canada to ignore a system that ignores them, and start a sport that answers many of the present system's failings.

Redefine wheelchair curling as a two person a team sport, where you are either throwing or skipping, and not sitting around pretending your stopwatch is supplying useful information.

Decide who can play. Should it be just full-time wheelchair users, or people who could not otherwise curl without a wheelchair, or anyone sitting in a wheelchair? Avoid the eligibility voodoo and counting of angels on pin heads that Kate Caithness presented to such a sceptical if not hostile reception at the WCF's Meeting last Spring. You either need a wheelchair always, or always on the ice, or not at all.

Ignore the still developing "stick curling" rules which inexplicably allow some sweeping. Keep the "one end throwing, one end skipping" format.

Then decide whether to stay with 8 rocks an end, or 6, or 6 with two rocks pre-placed by the house or some other combination that holds games to around an hour. Four wheelchair curlers could play a 3 game round robin in not much more time than one game of 4 person team curling.

Then come up with a bracing solution for the throwers. Opponents could brace, but able-bodied volunteer rock wranglers might be needed.

Then reduce the length of the sheet for every second under 14 that it takes a T-line line draw to travel between the hoglines. If it takes a 10 second heave to reach the T-line, the game is corrupted. You can't change the ice; you can change the throwing position to compensate.

And finally when time clocks are available, set a time limit, and penalise a point for every minute used over the limit.

Perhaps I am dreaming, but the present system seems a dead end, designed and run for unnecessarily narrow ends. It excludes all but a pampered few, pays no attention to the development of the sport across Canada and offers no opportunity for outside influence.

If the national program exists outside of the sponsorship of provincial associations, they should feel no obligation participate in it.

Had the people who initially decided to create the sport had the opportunity to see how their initiative has been drowned by a national thirst for international medals, they might have made different decisions.

What we need is a sport that answers the desire for winter recreation for wheelchair users. Wheelchair curling as presently defined fails, so needs to change.

Eric Eales
August 28, 2010
Kelowna, BC

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