'Everything is on the table' to improve national success, says Canada Curling CEO

In the wake of an independent third-party high-performance review focused on finding success on the pebbled ice once again, Curling Canada CEO Katherine Henderson says it’s time for change.

Residency rules, timing of Olympic trials among key issues addressed in recent review

A cluster of curling rocks with red handles sit on the ice.
Canada Curling CEO Katherine Henderson says impending change within the national program's structure 'will be well-managed' following a third-party review focused on improving on-ice performance. (Devin Heroux/CBC Sports)

In the wake of an independent third-party high-performance review focused on finding success on the pebbled ice once again, Curling Canada CEO Katherine Henderson says it's time for change.

"Everything is on the table. No one has anything to fear. It's all going to be for the good and the change will be well-managed. But I heard clearly from our athletes and staff that they believe change is necessary," Henderson said.

"There are a lot of ideas of how to get better. And some opposing views. But we all believe we need change and people want to be part of it."

Speaking to CBC Sports from Ottawa, Henderson says the national sport organization started having conversations this past summer about finding ways to get Canada back on top of the curling world.

That led to this review that's now been completed and is being circulated to those who participated.

The review began in August and was completed in late-October — elite curlers, the high-performance staff at Curling Canada and other stakeholders were asked a series of questions about the state of curling in Canada and what people thought might be limiting the country's success of late at international events.

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The third-party review allowed for curlers and other participants to have anonymity when answering — Henderson says the answers were candid and blunt at times. She says there was a wide range of participants including elite curlers and teams, wheelchair curlers, mixed doubles curlers all at varying ages.

Generally, questions in the review focused on bigger systemic and cultural themes around curling in the country and what changes could be made to improve performances.

"There are pieces of it we can talk about and there are pieces that are competitive that we don't want published," Henderson said.

"I'm not sure there was ever going to be a silver bullet in there. To me it was cultural and how willing are people going to be to listen to one another, to change and work together."

Some specific things Henderson was willing to talk about were residency rules and the date of Olympic trials.

She says both of those hot topic issues are certainly being talked about and changes could be coming.

"Residency is something we're going to have a conversation about over the next little while to see if we're doing this the right way," Henderson said.

Henderson said many of the athletes wish it wasn't an issue and that they would be willing to play wherever they wanted — there are successful examples of this in many other countries, including the British model that has centralized all athletes in a training centre.

"We have interprovincial competitions here. It's really important to our member associations," Henderson said.

Addressing subpar Olympic performance

The timing of the Olympic trials have been in the spotlight of late after just three medals were produced at the last two Winter Games for Canada.

Many have argued the date of the trials need to be changed. Currently the trials take place just months before the start of the Olympics, which some feel isn't enough time for the teams to properly prepare.

One suggestion that has been floated around is moving the trials back a substantial amount of time to better allow athletes to prepare for the big stage.

Again, Henderson says this is something that will be a topic of discussion.

"Probably by late-April we would have to announce to make sure people can prepare their lineups," she said when asked about a timeline on a decision.

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Curling Canada has yet to name a replacement for longtime high-performance director Gerry Peckham. Peckham has been with the organization for more than 30 years.

"We will announce a replacement fairly soon," Henderson said.

"It was an amazing process to go through. We worked with Own the Podium, and then we built a profile of the ideal high-performance director and ran it by a number of stakeholders."

The new high-performance director will face a challenging task as Curling Canada tries to restore itself as a powerhouse once again.

Not since 2017 has a men's team won gold at worlds. And not since 2018 has a women's team stood atop the podium at worlds.

"Our north star is that Canada should be a podium threat every single time they go to an international event. We have the depth and talent and resources," Henderson said.

"Canada is still a dominant nation when it comes to curling but we haven't medalled as consistently in the last five years."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Devin Heroux

CBC reporter

Devin Heroux reports for CBC News and Sports. He is now based in Toronto, after working first for the CBC in Calgary and Saskatoon.

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