Message from Olympic Head Coach David Murdoch on World Championships selection policy
Ahead of the Scottish Curling AGM, I want to urge all members to consider the best interests of curling in Scotland by voting against the motion that has been proposed by New Abbey Curling Club.
In explaining my position, I would stress that I consider myself very fortunate to have enjoyed competing in a sport that I love and I have enjoyed the support of the curling community during some of my greatest sporting achievements at Scottish, European and World Championships, as well as at the Olympic Games. Thanks to the investment I received as an athlete I was able to commit to the level required to compete at the very top end of the game for as long as I possibly could.
It is a sport in which tradition thrives and I am a traditionalist at heart and like most young curlers grew up with ambitions of winning the Scottish Championships.
When started out in the early 1990’s there were 12 teams in Lockerbie battling it out at local qualifiers to get to district qualifiers and ultimately the national finals, but the structure of the Scottish has changed dramatically and traditions have evolved even during my playing career. Curling’s inclusion in the Winter Olympics in 1998 meanwhile created another exciting target to aim for. That was a turning point for our sport and the Winter Olympics has since become the pinnacle of our sport, much envied by many others that are still clamouring to gain Olympic status.
The journey we have been heading on since then has been towards an increasing professionalisation of the game. The number of member associations around the world has increased and new rival nations emerging such as China and Korea, are consequently challenging established curling nations such as Canada and Sweden. All these countries have one goal to be on the Olympic podium which requires substantially funded programmes – and they have the necessary investment.
Our funding model is unique, other systems around the world are not comparable to ours as we are supported by agencies such as UK Sport and sportscotland. We should bear this in mind when looking to compare our structure with other countries. This support has enabled Scottish curlers from an ever widening range of backgrounds to pursue Olympic ambitions and dreams of achieving an Olympic medal with huge success over the years and it is our responsibility now to ensure those same opportunities – or better – are available to the next generations of curlers. We now have a system that rewards talent and commitment and excellent support is available to developing players and teams through the partnership between Scottish and British Curling – thanks to the investment from UK Sport and sportscotland.
That support is threatened however – and I am privileged in my position as Olympic Head Coach to know this – by some of the traditions of our sport. The move to selecting teams for the World Championships is purposeful to reduce the risk of funding and therefore opportunities for future generations of talented curlers being lost. My insight and head tells me change is necessary and vital for the future of our sport, despite my heart loving the traditions.
Like all Olympic sports, curling is an increasingly competitive environment and a fast changing landscape and to keep pace with that and compete with the very best, we need to safeguard the funding that keeps our sport on the world stage. We cannot return to bygone days and nostalgia and looking back will not keep us at the forefront of the game. Change is difficult and I fully understand the resistance to it, but we have to be realistic about where the sport is going and how we can achieve the best outcomes and ultimately how we can support and fund that.
The National Championships have and always will be the highlight of our domestic calendar. The new selection process ensures that it is a key factor in determining our best players to represent us at future World Championships, supported by consistent performances against key world opponents as demonstrated on the world tour. Achieving results and meeting our targets is vital for securing investment. It has been a difficult decision to make, but without the necessary reform we jeopardise not only our funding but also qualification at the next and future Olympics Games and the huge profile and potential new supporters and curlers to be gained from that.
I have huge ambitions for the athletes it is my privilege to work with. It is my responsibility to ensure Scottish and British Curling delivers more medals than ever before in Beijing 2022 and in years to come. We have had significant success with our teams around the world but please be under no illusion, those results were made possible thanks to the funding that has enabled them to combine careers and study while competing with the very best to overcome other nations around the world. In addition to travel and specialist coaching, science & medical support, the funding of our National Curling Academy enables our athletes to develop their skills using the latest technology in order to be prepared for the rigours of elite level demands.
It is that support, from junior level upwards that has created the pathway that has allowed successive Scottish and British Curling supported teams to make an immediate impact on the global scene when making the transition from junior to senior level.
The transformation of our sport is reflected in other Olympic sports that are similarly driven by milestone achievements and measurable goals and therefore cannot now rely on a single outcome or national championship event. The world of high performance sport is becoming an ever tougher environment, not least because every sport is battling in the same space for commercial and external support. Therefore the cost of losing our current investment would be high and detrimental to the development of the game at all levels.
We have a big target to hit in the upcoming Olympic qualifying year – now only 1 year due to COVID-19 - and support across all levels of the sport will be critical in protecting our investment and also the future stars of the game. I urge you therefore to vote to safeguard those interests at the forthcoming AGM and vote against the motion put forward by New Abbey Curling Club.
Scotland is rightly seen as having pioneered the global game and the future of our sport, which all club curlers have a responsibility to protect, is now in our hands. Please act in the FUTURE interests of our great sport.
David Murdoch, Olympic Head Coach
Image: WCF / Richard Gray