Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Four Nations Furore

You see, we in Scotland are spoilt. We have lots of curling facilities, and lots of opportunities to play. Not so our neighbours. England, and English curlers, are excited about the Four Nations event which the English Curling Association is hosting this weekend.

Read the press release that has gone out:

'International Curling comes to Kent
Curlers from all over Britain will converge on Fenton’s Rink in Tunbridge Wells this weekend (January 21-23) for the annual Four Nations competition. Teams representing Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England will compete for a number of trophies, some dating back over 70 years, on the ice at Fenton’s.

The competition, which is organised in turn by each of the Four Nations, has not been played on English ice since 1992 owing to a lack of facilities in the country until Ernest Fenton opened his eponymous rink, in Dundale Road, six years ago.

Alison Arthur, President of the host English Curling Association said, "I am really happy that we now have a facility in England where this prestigious competition can be played. For too many years we have been travelling up to Scotland to play on their home ice but now it is our turn to provide the hospitality. The visitors can be sure of a warm reception both on and off the ice."

The competition begins on Friday evening at 1800 and there are nine sessions of play planned, lasting through until 1530 on Sunday. On the Saturday evening a dinner and dance is being held in the Royal Wells Hotel where the players will be welcomed by Councillor Alex King, Deputy Leader of Kent County Council.

Ernest Fenton, owner of the rink, said, "I am very pleased that at long last we are once again able to invite the teams from Scotland, Ireland and Wales to come and play in England. Fenton’s Rink is proud of its status as the only curling rink in England and hope that we will be able to host this event once again in the future. I am positive that we will have a very exciting weekend for the players and spectators and hope to see people coming along to support their local players."

This weekend event is just one of many which are held at Fenton’s Rink throughout the curling season from October to April. Future national events include the English Mixed Championships and the English Schools Championships, while local curlers are organising the Great Gordino Classic and the Sir Alexander Fleming Memorial Trophy in the next couple of months.'

Of course, the Royal Caledonian Curling Club has informed the organisers that Scotland is not going to take part. But I am pleased to be able to tell you that some Scottish curlers have rallied to the cause and will travel to Kent to compete. Many responded to John Brown's plea on the blog here.

You would think those that govern our sport would be happy with this. When I asked Robbie Scott, the Royal Club President, what the status of these curlers would be, I was told they will have no official standing. This has been confirmed in an email circulated to all those travelling to Kent, originally sent to John Brown, the ECA Secretary, and to Alison Arthur, the ECA President and event organiser. It reads, "Hi Alison and John, I heard at the ASC meeting yesterday that you had almost got the required number of curlers to play in your 'friendly' games in Kent. I am sure that this will assist with the cost of the ice. My ASC members were adamant that the normal trophies that Scotland play for cannot be played for on this occasion.
Robbie Scott."

So, the representatives of club curlers in Scotland, the Areas Standing Committee, fail to see how much embarrassment has already been brought to our governing body and, instead of embracing the efforts of those who have stepped forward to play, they have further painted the RCCC's face with egg.

I despair.

I like Robbie Scott. I've known him a long time. He asked me at the weekend if I had sympathy for the difficulty he faced in putting together teams for the event. I do, to a certain extent. But the Royal Club has known for a year that the event would be this coming weekend - as it was last year (organised by Scotland at Greenacres), and indeed the year before (2009), and even the year before that. There is disinformation flying around that the organisers had 'changed the date', and that the 'RCCC had not been consulted over the date on which the competition was to be played'. Doesn't really hold up, given that for the past three years at least the Four Nations competition has been in January.

It was in 2009 that John Brown, writing in the March Scottish Curler magazine, commented on how in the ten years of the combined nations event, Scotland's predominance was diminishing. Scotland had always won their matches in the early years, but no longer. He said, "Now, this may not matter a whole lot in Scotland where there are so many other pressures and prizes to be won, but for the smaller countries it is always a joy to beat the Mother Club. My fear is that this will lead to a diminution of the tournament in the eyes of the RCCC, to the point where it is put out to grass, and that would be a great shame as it is one of the few remaining competitions where winning is not everything, in spite of what I have said. The spirit of curling is alive and well."

I think John was being somewhat prescient when he wrote this!

I have received a number of emails and calls about the Four Nations since I highlighted the problem on the blog. One such - a curler who has been involved in the highest levels of governance of the Royal Club and whose anonymity I will respect - says, "To withdraw from the Four Nations, January 21-23, is not just a sad reflection on our governing body but an insult to the three nations who have faithfully sent teams to Scotland each year. What message does this send to our brother and sister curlers in England, Ireland and Wales other than total indifference? Perhaps I have been wrong in assuming further development of our game across our four countries was an important strategic aim of the Royal Club."

'Sad reflection, 'insult', 'total indifference', strong language indeed. But I have to agree. I believe the Royal Club's ordinary members are being let down badly by those at the top. At the very least there has to be discussions at Board level about it all. Scotland's national governing body is being made to look stupid, and its image has been tarnished.

What are the trophies which will not now be played for? There's Scotland v England (two ladies' games) for the Connie Miller trophy. Connie will be turning in her grave, given that the trophy was presented with fun and friendship in mind, says one correspondent who was there when the women first got involved in the internationals. Then there's the Tom Ballantyne trophy which the men's teams play for over six games against England. The games against the Welsh (for the Welsh Stone, also known as Big Bertha) and Irish (for the Marshall Millenium trophy) are each contested by one ladies', one men's and two mixed teams.

I plan to be at Fenton's rink next weekend to support those Scots who will travel to take part in the Four Nations. No doubt I'll have a blog post or two from there. Politics aside, I have friends who are representing England, Wales and Ireland in the competition, and I want to recognise their efforts in keeping curling alive in these countries. I suspect it will turn out to be one of the most fun Four Nations events that there has ever been. And if I can show that 'the spirit of curling is alive and well', I'm up for it.

PS. I'm working on the concept of 'alternative' trophies to be played for. Suggestions anyone, perhaps along the lines of a model of Cairnie House flying a white flag?