Last night, you might have seen on Twitter a last-minute announcement that the semi-finals and finals of the Scottish Curling Championships would not after all be live-streamed on the BBC Sport website, as had been expected and as has happened in previous years. The issue seemed to be the event's sponsorship by an alcohol brand, and lots of different people quickly pointed out the obvious double-standard - the BBC have no problem at all giving lavish coverage to the "Guinness Six Nations" and indeed did so again this very day as the curling finals were taking place. It seems to be one rule for the most popular sports and another rule for minority sports - even though it's the minority sports that desperately need sponsorship the most. When they succeed in getting it, they're penalised by the BBC and starved of the TV coverage they desperately need just as much. It's crazy.
However, it turns out there's a little bit more to this story. I actually went to Dumfries for the curling finals today, and by chance I found myself sitting within earshot of someone who, let's say, seems to be ideally placed to know just about everything that goes on in Scottish curling. He revealed that BBC Scotland were totally happy to go ahead with livestreaming of the event and had no problem with the sponsorship issue, but were overruled by BBC Sport headquarters, which these days is based in Salford in Greater Manchester. That explains the shock last-minute nature of the decision.
Can there be a more perfect example of why the BBC is institutionally incapable of serving its Scottish audiences adequately? This event is a Scottish-only championship for a sport that in UK terms is played almost exclusively in Scotland. If ever there was a decision that should have been made by BBC Scotland, and BBC Scotland alone, without any possibility of a veto from on high, this was it. If there were rules about sponsorship to be applied, BBC Scotland should have been the ones to interpret them and to weigh them against the cultural importance of the event. It sounds like they initially did just that and decided the livestream should go ahead. That should have been the end of the matter, and "Salford" shouldn't even have come into it.
The other controversy surrounding the curling finals was the scrapping of the decades-long tradition that the winning teams automatically get to represent Scotland at the subsequent World Championships. Instead, a selection panel will make the decision and the results of the national championships will be only one of the factors taken into account. Most of the spectators today seemed to be deeply unhappy about that development, not least because they feel it devalues the national championships. (I must admit that I reacted that way myself - when I saw that selection for the worlds was no longer directly at stake, I almost had second thoughts about going today, because the competition suddenly seemed less important and prestigious than when I had previously gone to a couple of finals days in Perth.)
But the well-connected chap I was overhearing explained that the rule change was the result of a memorandum of understanding with "British Curling", which oversees Team GB curling participation in the Olympics. He went on to add that "British Curling" also have a representative on the selection panel that will decide which teams represent Scotland at the World Championships. That strikes me as downright odd. OK, well over 90% of "British curlers" are in Scotland, so British Curling is presumably a heavily Scottish-dominated organisation. But as a matter of principle, a British governing body should not be deciding the composition of Scottish representative teams when there is a Scottish governing body there to do the job.
I also formed the impression from what was said (and admittedly the guy was speaking quietly at this point so I may have got the wrong end of the stick) that it's a foregone conclusion that Bruce Mouat's team, the reigning World and European champions, will be selected as Team Scotland for the men's worlds, even though they suffered a shock defeat in the semi-final this week. This is apparently because the statistics that will be looked at are firmly in their favour, and show that they usually "get over the line".
Leaving aside the issue of the devaluing of the national championships, I'm not sure how I feel about this rule change. On the one hand, there have been any number of occasions in the past when the Scottish national champions have clearly not been the best team in the country and have frustratingly gone on to have very poor results at the worlds. But on the other hand, these instances of the 'wrong teams' going to the worlds allowed a much greater range of players to gain valuable international experience. That may no longer happen, and there's a real danger of 'fossilisation' if the same team is always selected irrespective of any runs of poor form. The same danger applies on the women's side, incidentally, because Rebecca Morrison's team is the totally dominant women's team in Scotland at the moment - and yet if the traditional rule had applied, she wouldn't be going to the worlds. She had a horror show today and was resoundingly beaten in the final by Team Henderson.
As you won't have seen it on the BBC, here are a few photos from today...