As we all become transfixed with the curling at the Winter Olympics, great to see Judith in today's Times article about continuing to grow the game in Scotland!
In the shadow of Murrayfield, less than 48 hours after Scotland’s rugby heroes retained the Calcutta Cup, friends, family and curling compatriots of Jen Dodds and Bruce Mouat gathered en masse hoping to witness another famous Scottish sporting moment.
Victory in the mixed doubles semi final against Norway would guarantee the pair a silver medal; instead, the atmosphere inside the sparkling facility at Curl Edinburgh was flattened as the local heroes were edged out on the final stone. While winning bronze might be a consolation — Sweden are the opponents in this morning’s play-off — the prospect of Scottish gold on the Beijing ice remains strong.
Dodds is part of Eve Muirhead’s European champion women’s team, which won the recent qualifying event for Beijing. Mouat, meanwhile, skips a men’s squad ranked first in the world. Expectation levels could not be higher.
Ever since Rhona Martin’s side memorably won gold in Salt Lake City in 2002, curling has become the central focus of Team GB’s Winter Olympic hopes. That success — watched by nearly six million people at midnight — kick-started investment in the sport. Curling has received more than £5 million of UK Sport funding during the last two Olympic cycles. Medals are now demanded, rather than hoped for.
Yet the sport still struggles to attract participants beyond its traditional demographics. While the seven sheets at Curl Edinburgh were packed yesterday, Covid-19 has impacted on participation levels; for the first time in a generation there are now fewer than than 10,000 regular curlers in Scotland. With 21 rinks across Scotland, there is a constant challenge to lure younger people into the sport.
The presence of Nile Wilson, the former Olympic gymnast turned YouTube star, sliding around on the ice as part of a UK Sport and National Lottery initiative, hints at a move towards a new audience.
“Curling families continue to produce curlers, which is great, but it’s also a limiting factor,” David Aitken, British Curling’s Performance Foundation Manager and a former coach of Dodds and Mouat, said.
“Bruce isn’t from a curling family; his mum and dad just brought him along to watch one day at Gogar. He golfed and he swam and did other sports at school, but he enjoyed curling, started to make friends and then became good at it.
“For this to be the only curling facility in Edinburgh isn’t great. Funding can only go so far with that. There’s traditionally been a correlation between medal success and the level of funding, but I think there’s a movement towards seeing more potential to participate. Curling is relatively easy to do as an indoor sport; you don’t need a lot of kit and you can start at a variety of ages.
“Most curling rinks will let people come in for free, off the back of an event such as the Olympics, to try the sport. Particularly for juniors, it’s quite heavily subsidised by the clubs — they know it’s important to get people involved.
“A gold medal can change this — the benefits for physical, social and mental health are really strong for sports like curling to enable people to develop and grow the game.”
At the elite level, Scotland’s prowess in curling is such that their international rivals are keen to tap into their ideas. The hope here is that if Muirhead and Mouat’s rinks strike gold, this production line will only increase.
“Countries are trying to pick our brains now about how we train,” Aitken said. “We’ve got a system in Scotland that’s working. The gold from Salt Lake City, in terms of where we are now, isn’t hugely relevant. In terms of who’s producing top class athletes now, Scotland are definitely seen as being at the top, with some seriously good teams.”
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