Curling Canada has added a birthright status option to its residency rules for the 2019-20 season, allowing athletes to represent the province or territory where they were born if they live outside of those borders.
All teams can still use one so-called ‘free agent’ from outside their province or territory, but now may have more flexibility for the rest of the lineup. The decision was recently finalized by Curling Canada operations team after discussions with the board of governors and member association presidents.
"I think what we did is we found the smallest pebble on the beach and tossed it into the equation knowing it would have very little of a ripple effect across the competitive curling scene," Curling Canada high-performance director Gerry Peckham said Wednesday from the Ottawa area.
The update creates immediate relief for top-ranked Team Rachel Homan, which has two members based in Ontario and two in Alberta.
The team represented Ontario last season because Homan, an Ottawa native based in St. Paul, Alta., used a residency exemption as a full-time post-secondary on-campus student.
It was unclear how Homan — who recently had a baby boy — would be able to juggle motherhood, full-time studies and a regular curling schedule next season.
The birthright option would allow her team to continue to play out of Ontario.
"Team Homan supports Curling Canada’s updated residency rules," the team said in a statement. "We believe that birthright will benefit many curlers and member associations across the country while maintaining the tradition of the Scotties and Brier.
"It’s a reality for many curlers that school, work and family may require moving outside their birth province, and this rule change will help athletes balance curling excellence with the freedom to make career, education and life choices."
Lineup changes can be quite common on the elite curling scene, especially early in the Olympic quadrennial, and provincial/territorial boundaries are a key factor teams must consider. In some cases, athletes have to pick up and relocate to fulfil residency requirements.
Curling Canada is keen to keep the traditional provincial/territorial setup at its showcase national championships — the Tim Hortons Brier and the Scotties Tournament of Hearts — and also support its member associations who have helped develop the athletes.
With most elite curlers balancing regular jobs with training, travel and competition, the federation also hopes the birthright option will give athletes more freedom in their personal and professional lives while achieving their goals on the ice.
"It’s pretty standard in other sports and the fact is that we still love our traditional interprovincial and interterritorial competition," said Peckham. "It’s the mechanism by which we declare representation on the world stage. But every now and then, that does cause us a little wrinkle that we have to address."
There has been some simmering tension on the residency issue in recent seasons, particularly in Ontario.
A number of curlers in last season’s provincial championship, long upset that the powerhouse Homan team was eligible despite two players primarily living out of province, voted for her to win the competition’s sportsmanship award in an apparent mock gesture.
"This is an initial rule to appease some of the complainers," Sportsnet curling broadcaster and 1998 Olympian Mike Harris said from Inverness, N.S. "So I think that you might see it get massaged over the next little while. But I like the idea."
Homan’s team won the provincial playdowns and went on to reach the final at the national championship.