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 public session with curlers eager to hear the next steps from a group that includes Sweden’s Niklas Edin as its interim president and Canada’s Tyler Tardi and Emma Miskew among its leaders.
More than 60 athletes have signed an initial “letter of support,” Hartley said, a number he believes will increase significantly by spring.
“Of course, you’re still going to have a couple of segmented groups from various places that are a little on the fence about things,” Hartley said. “I would say there is more work to be done to get everyone on board with this initiative.
“But I think the overall response so far has been pretty positive.”
However, many questions remain as the association takes baby steps. There is no voting date for the board elections, details about the charter plans have not been disclosed, and no information about financial outlay requirements.
“I just hope we’re not putting the cart before the horse,” reigning Canadian men’s champion Brad Gushue said. “We want to make sure that when we put this together, we do it the right way.”
Additionally, Hartley, who also runs a marketing agency, is a co-founder of a curling streaming service. And in his first press release, he named himself the executive director of a new Players’ Tour (for select non-major bonspiels).
When asked about the apparent conflict, Hartley said the association will intentionally be a non-profit organization, adding that it is organizing the PA initiative to improve curling to help move the sport forward.
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The varied roster of positions still raised some eyebrows in parts of the curling community.
“I definitely think there needs to be a little better communication on these points,” Hartley acknowledged. “I think some people see that I’m the founder of both and assume that therefore I own and have some kind of stake there.
“But the reality is, yes, I found both entities, but the curling players’ association is for the players and by the players. And the Players’ Tour is a brand that I have to connect these events.”
The association leadership group is divided 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.
Failure in the past inspires caution
Scheduling difficulties, unexpected rule changes and a general lack of communication have been long-standing problems for elite curlers. Many have longed for formal representation at the table with the power brokers of the sport.
“I think when the day comes that players can come together and work together, then we’ll start to get better treatment,” said Darren Molding, who plays third for Horgan. “Because right now I think players take advantage of us 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 player associations have been created in the past, but these groups did not last long term.
A recent attempt gained momentum a few years ago, but the COVID-19 pandemic stifled the plans and the effort appears to have gone dormant. A curler connected to that group declined to comment on the recent events.
Gushue, meanwhile, looked at the recent town hall and said he left it feeling “cautiously optimistic.”
“There are many questions that need to be answered,” he said. “I think if they are answered and answered in the right way, I think we will see this happen.
“But I don’t want to be 100 percent for it right now.”
Hartley said it is up to the players what their involvement in the association will be. Right now, he is focused on organization and communication in hopes of putting some pieces in place for next season.
Hartley is planning webinars in the coming weeks as the hiring process continues. The long-term goal, he said, is to have a completely self-sufficient association that is owned and operated by the players.
“It’s got 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 should be player-led, player-owned, player-operated, and not have any outside influence from people who have other vested interests in the game.”