Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A new future for Scottish and British curling

One of the incongruities about a personal blog like Skip Cottage Curling is that one moment I seem to be larking about with caption competitions and other trivialities, and the next I'm trying to get my head around serious issues such as the changing policies of the organisations that look after our representation in world championships and the Olympics.

This post is a serious one! Listen up if you will. Correct me if what you read here is wrong. Contribute to the debate if you are so minded. Change is in the air. For better, or for worse? I leave you to form your own opinions.

I may have some detail wrong, but one thing is clear, the previous curling programmes of the Royal Club, sportscotland's Institute of Sport, and British Curling, are now history. No longer can we think of the Institute looking after the elite teams, the Royal Club looking after the next level, the National Academy teams, and British Curling looking after the teams for the Olympics and Paralympics. The future seems to be putting past structures into a big pot and giving the whole lot a good stir. Exactly what will emerge is a little difficult to see.

Here's what we know at present. sportscotland Institute of Sport's Mike Whittingham, the high performance director there, seems to be taking the lead. I've already mentioned (here) the appointment of a 'Performance Director' for the high performance curling programme. That process is already advanced, with applications closed last months and interviews imminent if not already ongoing. Last week adverts for three more posts for 'Head Coaches' went up online (see here), for a men's head coach, a women's head coach, and a wheelchair curling head coach.

These are new posts, and current holders of coaching positions, such as Derek Brown, Cate Brewster, Nancy Murdoch and Tom Pendreigh for example, will all have to apply for the jobs if they are interested in any of them, and wish to stay with the future curling programme. And what will be the position of Rhona Martin, the Royal Club's Performance Development Coach, and Brad Askew, her assistant? I understand too, there there will be other 'technical coach' positions to be filled as this new coaching structure takes place.

These new appointments are being made apparently with the blessing and agreement of British Curling, something I find odd as the new board of that organisation is not yet in place, although we know that Mike Gillespie is the new Chairman (see here), that appointment just awaiting ratification from members at their next meeting. Appointment of directors should take place later this month, applications having now closed. One thing is certain. Royal Club Chairman Willie Nicoll has a seat on the new British Curling Board. And it seems likely that the new Royal Club CEO, Bruce Crawford, will also be the Chief Operating Officer of British Curling.

I asked Willie Nicoll when I heard about this, my gut feeling being that there might be conflicts of interest. This was before I realised that the past was past and a new future was in the pot. He responded, "Following a review of British Curling certain changes are under discussion one of which is that the CEO of the Royal Club will undertake the duties of the Chief Operating Officer of British Curling. When these discussions are concluded and ratified by the members a formal announcement will be made." He did add in a follow-up email that he had no doubt that this will be approved by the members.

It would seem then that there is to be a much closer working relationship in the future between the Royal Club and British Curling. That's probably a good thing, although others, such as the Welsh and English Curling Associations, might have something to say about it all. I note that John Brown says, "There needs to be a clear distinction I believe in the various roles of the RCCC and British Curling." And he further comments on the run-up to Sochi in his post here.

The new coaching structure implies a much closer relationship between the Royal Club and the sportscotland Institute of Sport than there has been in the past. It has always seemed to me unnecessarily complicated to separate the national coaching effort into 'Elite' and 'National Academy' squads. Bringing these together, involving too the British Curling Olympic/Paralympic effort, seems on paper to be a sensible idea - assuming it can be made to work, avoiding the mistakes and problems of the past. It will be the Performance Director's job to make it happen. What a crucial appointment that will be!

Funding for all the jobs and the high performance curling programme comes from sportscotland and from UKSport. Such a new structure, with everyone working together, must be a happier choice for these funding partners. It says in the job descriptions "For the next Olympiad cycle 2010-2014, sportscotland and UK Sport will jointly fund one High Performance Programme for Curling which will have two clear components - a Scottish High Performance Programme and an Olympic/Paralympic element. The representative body for the British element is British Curling whilst the Scottish High Performance Programme sits with the Royal Caledonian Curling Club. It is anticipated that up to 48 athletes will be supported through this process."

The job descriptions of the head coach jobs now being advertised notes that the first of many 'key responsibilities' is to be head coach for the Sochi 2014 Olympic/Paralympic curling teams.

Despite the British Curling Board not yet being in place, as I've noted already, I can only assume that all this new relationship between sportscotland Institute of Sport, the Royal Club and British Curling has all been worked out, and the recipe for the future has been discussed much more than anyone is letting on.

If you are like me, you will have many questions to ask. For example, what will the Royal Club's influence be on the performance curling programme? Little or none? Certainly that would seem to be the case. The post of 'National Coach' is now irrelevant. What about the Regional Academy programme to encourage those new to the competitive side of the sport? Will this continue? Assuming that the Royal Club will still organise Scottish Championships, with the winners going to the Worlds, what will happen if a team which is not supported wins that right? Or is all this going to change too?

My goodness, we live in interesting times!