Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The wrong kind of player power?

The world women's curling championship gets underway in Denmark later this week, and Scotland will be represented by the core of the team that triumphed at the world juniors in Perth at the weekend. The big difference is that the skip will not be Eve Muirhead, but instead the third player from the junior team, Anna Sloan - the reason being that Sloan led the team to the Scottish title a few weeks ago without Muirhead's involvement. Nevertheless, Muirhead has very sensibly been drafted in as team alternate, which in years gone by would almost certainly have meant that she would have ended up playing at either skip or third if the early results had gone the wrong way. But this time it appears not. According to Bob Cowan's blog, unless there is an illness or injury in the team, Muirhead will not be playing at all -

"It will certainly be a different role for Eve - matching stones for the team in late night practice sessions is just one of her jobs with coach Isobel Hannen. Still, as the experiences of the junior men's team show, it is so important to have a well-qualified alternate on the bench in case of illness. She will not be used as a 'tactical substitute'. This is the official line."

If true, that strikes me as mildly insane. I can certainly see the argument that a tactical substitute can sometimes make matters worse if the person in question is not used to playing with the others. But that is clearly not the case here - Muirhead could slot in naturally at any time, and when you have the world and European silver medal-winning skip from last year at your disposal, it seems a silly hostage to fortune to needlessly limit that option.

From a distance, it's hard not to wonder if this is the legacy of the bizarre events of three years ago, when the Scottish skip Gail Munro was dropped midway through the world championships because of poor form, and her third Lyndsay Wilson withdrew from the team in protest, leading to a hurried recall for Munro to make up the numbers. Munro then refused to play in a show of solidarity with Wilson, and the net result was that Scotland took to the ice with only three players in games that were vital for Olympic qualifying. In a sense what happened was nobody's fault - it was more a question of differing perceptions. Wilson presumably felt that the team were there as of right as Scottish champions and thus shouldn't be mucked about with, whereas the coaches recognised that the team were first and foremost representing a country, and the country's interests were paramount. These are both understandable perceptions, but the bottom line is that the coaches were correct. If this particular example of player power has ultimately won the argument, it seems like a terribly retrograde step for the game in Scotland.

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