Thursday, January 31, 2008

Wheelchair worlds

I received a release today announcing the start of the World Wheelchair Championships this Saturday in Sursee, Switzerland. Canada’s team will be skipped by Gerry Austgarden.
He takes over for Chris Daw, who has “withdrawn from competition.”
I have to admit that I haven’t followed the goings-on in wheelchair curling as closely as I should, but there seems to be some mystery in Daw’s withdrawal. There was a good column in the last issue of Sweep about it with some cryptic comments about Daw’s absence.
Daw is about the only name in Wheelchair curling that many fans are really familiar with. I’ve interviewed him a couple of times and he seemed like a fine chap. He, of course, led Canada to the gold at the 2006 Paralympics in Turin.
When I first went to watch wheelchair curling, it was back about five or six years ago at the Toronto Cricket Club and I was told at that time that there were only a few teams in the entire country. I know it's grown since then. The competition is serious these days and more and more clubs are making their ice accessible to wheelchairs. It seems as if the sport has just taken off.
There’s even some controversy these days with Big Jim Armstrong – one of my all-time favourites to cover back in the day – trying to get permission to play. As noted in Al Cameron’s fine blog, he’s suffered some debilitating ailments that have almost reduced him to a wheelchair full time. So far, however, the WCF won’t give him a pass, even though it should.
In any case, it’s great to see the sport growing. Very positive for curling.


. said...

Wheelchair curling is indeed growing, though a long way from claiming its rightful place as an affordable source of winter recreation for Canadian wheelchair users. Every bit of publicity helps.

As for the WCF refusing to give Jim Armstrong a "pass" to play at the international level (he is qualified to play provincially) the rules clearly state that he is presently ineligible (WCF Rule 2g).

Should the rules be changed to allow him to play? Perhaps, but not just because he is a stand-up guy.

Jim's niceness is not in dispute, nor is his misfortune in being unable to use the hack. The question is whether wheelchair curling should be for people who use wheelchairs for their daily mobility, or who just sit in wheelchairs while they curl.

This is the debate that the CCA should be sponsoring, and not merely attempting to insert a presently ineligible curler onto the national team for competitive advantage.

Would we even be talking about Jim if the Paralympics had not adopted wheelchair curling, and were the Games not in Vancouver in 2010?

There is discussion of these and other aspects of wheelchair curling, including the rules, and the SWEEP magazine article referred to in Bob's post, at

Eric Eales

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