Curling PA plans met with 'cautious optimism' from some top Canadian curlers

The organizer of a new curling players' association said the group's efforts have been generally well received by athletes since its executive group and plans were unveiled a month ago. Curlers sweep a stone during a practice session at the Tim Hortons Brier in Lethbridge, Alta., Friday, March 4, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

The organizer of a new curling players' association said the group's efforts have been generally well received by athletes since its executive group and plans were unveiled a month ago.

Rylan Hartley recently held a town hall session with curlers eager to hear about next steps from a group that lists Sweden's Niklas Edin as its interim president and Canadians Tyler Tardi and Emma Miskew among its leadership.

Over 60 athletes have signed an initial "letter of support," Hartley said, a number he thinks will rise significantly by the spring.

"Of course you're still going to have a couple of segmented groups from various places that are kind of on the fence with things," Hartley said. "I would say that there's more work to be done to get everyone sort of onside with this initiative.

"But I think the general response so far has been fairly positive."

One of Hartley’s main goals is to give athletes a stronger voice to tackle core concerns. He envisions the international group working as partners with existing circuits, federations and event organizers.

However, many questions remain as the association makes baby steps. There is no vote date for board elections, specifics on bylaw plans haven't been unveiled and there's no word on financial outlay requirements.

"I just hope we're not putting the cart before the horse," said reigning Canadian men's champion Brad Gushue. "We want to make sure that when we put this together that it's put together the right way."

In addition, Hartley — who also runs a marketing agency — is a co-founder of a curling streaming service. And in his first news release, he listed himself as CEO of a new Players' Tour (for select non-major bonspiels).

When asked about the apparent conflict, Hartley said the association intentionally will be a not-for-profit organization, adding he's organizing the PA initiative for the betterment of curling to help move the sport forward.

The varied list of positions still raised some eyebrows within parts of the curling community.

"Definitely I think there needs to be a little bit better communication on these points," Hartley acknowledged. "I think a few people see that I'm the founder of both and they assume that therefore I'm an owner and that I have some kind of stake there.

"But the reality is yes, I did found both of these entities but the curling players' association is for the players and by the players. And the Players' Tour is a brand that I own to connect these events."

The association's leadership group is split into four regions: Canada (Tardi, Miskew), Europe (Edin, Silvana Tirinzoni), USA (Korey Dropkin, Tabitha Peterson) and Pacific/Asia (JD Lind, Anna Ohmiya). The Next Gen category includes Tanner Horgan and Mackenzie Zacharias.

Scheduling difficulties, unexpected rule changes and a general lack of communication have been long-standing issues for elite curlers. Many have yearned for formal representation at the table with the sport's power brokers.

"I think when the day comes when the players can actually band together and work with each other, then we'll start being treated better," said Darren Moulding, who plays third for Horgan. "Because right now I think, the players, we get taken advantage of in certain scenarios.

"It's because we don't have a seat at the table and we don't have a common goal."

Other curling players' associations have been created in the past, but those groups did not last on a long-term basis.

A recent attempt gained steam a few years ago, but the COVID-19 pandemic stifled plans and the effort appears to have gone dormant. A curler connected to that group declined to comment on recent developments.

Gushue, meanwhile, took in the recent town hall and said it left him feeling "cautiously optimistic."

"There's a lot of questions that need to be answered," he said. "I think if they get answered and they get answered the right way I think we will see this happen.

"But I don't want to come out 100 per cent in favour of it at this point."

Hartley said it's up to the players what his involvement will eventually be with the association. Right now, he's focused on organization and communication with the hope of putting some pieces in place for next season.

"It's going to take a village to put this together," he said in a recent interview. "I think there's a lot of curlers that understand and appreciate that."

Hartley is planning webinars over the coming weeks as the recruitment process continues. The long-term goal, he said, is to have a completely self-sustaining association that's owned and operated by the players.

"It needs to be totally separate," said Brent Laing, who plays second on Team Mike McEwen. "That was one of the things that came up on the call.

"It needs to be player-run, player-owned, player-operated and not have any outside influence from people who have other vested interests in the game."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 24, 2023.

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

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