Friday, March 25, 2011

Then there was peace

After the excitement of the last few days it was a pretty uneventful Annual General Assembly of the World Curling Federation today. With 43 members represented and 15 proxies there were more than enough for a quorum. President Kate Caithness started proceedings with a minute’s silence in the memory of the people of Japan and New Zealand and also the recent losses of Frank Duffy and Jim Duff, one of whose roles of course was as Master of Ceremonies for the Pondhoppers Club.

One of the banes of the organisers of major championships is the recent custom for teams to arrive late for things like final banquets or to appear in casual clothes when team uniform has been requested. In future if a complaint is received from an organising committee there will be a financial penalty for the infraction payable by the national association concerned.

I have talked already a couple of days ago (see here) of some of the proposals. Time outs (as coach interactions will now be called) will remain as they are currently operated, with clocks stopped for a specified travelling time and then the coach having one minute to interact with the team with the clocks running; tie breakers will remain in operation for most competitions, but for the WSCC, WMDCC and EJCC, alternative skill based solutions which do not require extra games will be trialled from next season; more detail will be put on the bones for the new World Championship Qualifying system for further approval at Moscow, and the first World Curling Congress will be held in the autumn of 2012 though there will still be a General Assembly at Basel in April.

And that was about it!

And the fun continues...

Yesterday was the Semi Annual General Meeting of the European Curling Federation and just 18 of the 37 members of the Federation were represented in person. The problem was that 50% are required to make the meeting quorate so no decisions could be taken! So bit of a waste of time for anyone who had travelled specially, though most are here for today’s WCF Annual General Assembly.

The meeting got off to a sensational start when President Andrew Ferguson-Smith announced that he had come to an agreement with the municipality of Champery for the setting up of a European Centre of Curling Excellence in Champery of which he would be the first CEO. It was going to be set as a Société à responsabilité limitée, broadly equivalent to a private company limited by shares (Ltd) in the United Kingdom with 49% owned by the ECF and 51%% by the curling club and municipality of Champery. The HQ office of the ECF would also be there and the municipality was giving free office space.

After the good burghers of Champery had given their presentation on the project, uproar ensued as many of the ECF members complained that they were being presented with a fait accompli and that they had not had a chance to see if this deal was the best for their association and members. Even the Executive Board of the ECF had only seen the proposal last night and so were not prepared to fully back their President.

After last year’s stand-off with the WCF this was a further blow to the credibility of the ECF President with his members. At the end of the day he was asked to go away and produce the paperwork for the project, which he hoped to begin in September, so that members could pore over it and check out the details.

That is not to say that the members disagreed with the idea – all who spoke backed the concept of the proposal but unfortunately the manner of its presentation and sudden appearance on the agenda did not find favour. One can only hope that the visitors from Champery will not drop the idea as being too much of a hot potato and that the proposal will get the go ahead in due course.

The rest of the meeting passed quietly. The one major announcement was that the 2012 EMCC and ECC – C group competitions would more than likely be in Erzurum, Turkey, the recent site of the World University Games. Just a few more details need to be finalised before the venue is confirmed. Interestingly to make the combination of the two championships easier the games in the ECC-C group will be limited to 8 ends, the same as the EMCC.

The International Court of Arbitration of Sport had also thrown out Poland’s legal action against the ECF after the ECF had suspended them from the European Championships for non-payment of their annual subscription. It was also announced that ten countries had still to pay their subscription for this year – including Denmark, Germany and Russia. I hope the last pays in time or they will not be playing at the Europeans in Moscow!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Off the Ice at Esbjerg

While the women battle it out on the ice in Esbjerg, happenings off the ice could change the face of international championships in the near future.

Under the two tenets of the WCF wanting to have control over who plays in their championships and having the best teams on the ice at the major finals, a group was set up following the meetings in Champery last December to iron out the details of a qualifying competition for the Men’s and Women’s World Championships from 2014 onwards.

As a result of that group’s discussions and further talk in the last couple of days it looks as though the following system will ultimately get the go ahead – but not until further details are added to the proposal and so not until Moscow in December.

For the World Championships from 2014 onwards the participants will be decided as follows: the host nation, the top 7 countries from previous World Championships and then the top two teams from at least two qualifying competitions to be run by the WCF.

The top seven countries may be from the previous season or from a weighted average of past performance (say over the previous three seasons) – this is one of the details to be finalised.
All other member nations would participate (if they wanted to) in a qualifying competition – let’s assume there will be two called Red and Blue. If the host venue for one of these competitions is in the entries then they would be placed in the respective group and then all other nations would be placed according to World ranking. Otherwise World ranking would be the sole determinant. Entries would need to be in by June 1st and the qualifying competitions would be held in November, except for an Olympic season when they would be held in January because the Olympic Qualifying Event is programmed for November (see below for details of that!). The top two teams from each event would qualify for the WMCC and WWCC.

So this means the end of regional qualification via the European or Pacific Championships and also ends the almost automatic qualification of Canada and the USA who would have to finish in the top 7 or 8 to qualify for the next year. In the most extreme circumstances it could mean a World Championships made up entirely of European countries or alternatively with only three or four European Countries participating. It also calls into doubt the role and status of the Pacific and European Championships.

With Olympic qualification dependent upon gathering points in the World Championships will national associations be forced by their national Olympic Associations to enter the World Qualifying competitions but then not offered any help to compete in the European Championships which will occur just a few weeks later? Will a country’s best players be able to get time off or to afford to attend both competitions?

From an England point of view for example why should we send a team to the World Qualifying as we do not get any Olympic points even if we get to Worlds and even if we did it is certain that our champion teams could not afford to play in both – so do we send a poorer quality team to the Europeans? But then entry to the WCF Qualifier will presumably be free while an entry to the European Championships costs over £500?

And then there is the Olympic Qualifying Event (OQE) – this was confirmed at the meetings in Champery – it will be held in the November prior to the Olympics and will be for all nations who have played in the three previous World Championships but not gathered enough qualifying points to automatically play in the Olympics. So for season 2013-14 (and other Olympic seasons) the programme begins to look like this: OQE in November, Europeans/Pacifics in December, World Qualifiers in January, Olympics in February and Worlds in March/April – quite a programme and is it sustainable in what is still an amateur sport?

In non Olympic years the World Qualifying Competition will take place in November. One side effect of all this could be that the World Mixed Doubles and World Seniors will not be changed to November as was previously proposed – soundings will be taken of the teams in St Paul at this year’s competitions.

Two rule changes will also be voted on at Friday’s General Assembly. Firstly the issue of time-outs has arisen again. In Cortina it was decided that they would be replaced by coach interactions when the coach could have a minute on the ice with his/her players but the clock would not stop. This led to some dangerous situations with coaches running or climbing barriers to get to their team as quickly as possible. In Champery it was decided to implement a travelling time for the coaches which would be specific to each venue and would be when the clock would be stopped. When the coach reached their team the clock would start and they would have a minute on the ice with their team.

It is necessary for this revised rule to be defined in the Rule Book and so this will be done on Friday if voted for but in addition the option of doing away with time-outs all together will also be put on the table.

The WCF is still keen to do away with tiebreakers as the need to allow time in the programme is not an efficient use of time if it is not needed and situations have arisen recently where insufficient time was allowed in the programme for tiebreakers, leading to the situation at the EJCC in Prague where the Czech Republic played four games in one day.

There is no option on the table to do away with tie breakers but there is a motion to keep tie breakers for the moment in the WMCC, WWCC, WJCC, WWhCC and WMDCC but to try out a number of alternative systems in the EJCC, PJCC, WSCC and WWhQCC – these alternatives include variations on the Draw Shot Challenge, including more than one stone per game, a post round robin shoot out, as trialled at the EMCC last September, or a reversion to a previous system of a post round robin four-stone all team member draw shot challenge.

The final major proposal put forward by the WCF Board was to disconnect the WCF General Assembly from the World Championships to allow attention to be focussed on the curling and allow WCF Board Members more time to network and entertain sponsors. The idea is that there will be a World Curling Congress in the Autumn which will not just incorporate the meetings but could be expanded to include clinics etc. While the WCF wanted to initiate this in 2011, they were persuaded that arrangements were already too far advanced for the semi-annual assembly at Moscow in December and so the likely outcome is for the General Assembly due for Basel in April to be abandoned and the first World Curling Congress to take place in Autumn 2012.
Further information on these proposals will follow the General Assembly in Friday.

Watch this space.