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Curling Canada says pregnancy exemption to be expanded in 2024

Play gets underway as cardboard cutouts of fans look on at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary on Feb. 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh Play gets underway as cardboard cutouts of fans look on at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary on Feb. 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
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Curling Canada says it is opening up its pregnancy exemption eligibility to all teams competing at next year's Canadian women's and men's championships, with the announcement coming a day after the organization came under fire for limiting the exemption to just the top five teams in the rankings.

In a release issued Thursday evening, Curling Canada said the expanded rule will take effect for the 2024 Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary and will also be applied for the 2024 Brier in Regina.

The exemption allows a team to use a replacement player even if the athlete didn't play in the provincial/territorial championship or meet residency requirements.

Curling Canada's existing policy, which will remain in force for the 2023 women's and men's championships, allows the top five teams to add an out-of-province free agent at the national playdowns.

The wild-card team for the upcoming women's championship skipped by fourth-ranked Kaitlyn Lawes of Manitoba was allowed to use Edmonton-based Laura Walker as a replacement for vice Selena Njegovan, who was granted a pregnancy leave.

However, 13 of the 18 teams that qualified for the Feb. 17-26 event in Kamloops, B.C., could not apply to make similar lineup changes if needed. Several prominent curlers — including Olympian Dawn McEwen, Mike McEwen, Felix Asselin and Beth Peterson — criticized the eligibility rule Wednesday on social media.

All teams are allowed to use replacements that meet Curling Canada's residency requirements.

Under residency rules, at least three of four players must live or have birthright status in their respective province or territory. Only one free agent is allowed unless an exemption is granted.

Curling Canada had said in a release Wednesday that the exemption only applied to the top five teams "because their ability to replace a player with someone with an equal level of ability and commitment is limited."

"I'm confused to what position/standing in CTRS (rankings) has to do with this," Jessie Haughian, second on a team skipped by sixth-ranked Casey Scheidegger, said on Twitter. "Pregnancy is pregnancy."

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