Business of Curling: Tackling the Issue of Diversity

Dr. Heather Mair is a professor at the University of Waterloo in the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies. This past curling season, she prepared an issue paper – with the support of the Toronto Curling Association, the Canadian Curling Association and the University of Waterloo – to investigate issues of diversity facing the sport of curling in Toronto. With Dr. Mair’s permission, I would like to share with you sections on her research and the recommendations of her paper.
A 2005 study by Statistics Canada projected Canada’s ethnic and cultural makeup is undergoing rapid change especially especially in major urban areas (Belanger & Malenfant, 2005). More recently, Statistics Canada issued a report (March 9, 2010) arguing that by 2031, 25-28% of the Canadian population could be foreign born. These statistical forecasts are telling us that immigration is a major force shaping Canada’s urban areas. Sport organizations, including curling (facilities), need to prepare for these demographic changes and to find ways to introduce their sport to new Canadians. However, curling is also, arguably, a very traditional, white sport. Gebhardt and Potwarka’s work (2009) indicated 91% of curlers speak English conversationally and 87% identified their ethnicity as “white”. Mair’s (2009) report on a five year study of curling clubs in rural Canada supports these findings and argues curlers are well aware they are too “white”. The challenge, then is to find a way to ensure curling reflects the changing face of Canada. Here are Dr. Mair’s recommendations: 1. Make it as easy as possible for newcomers to find out the basics of curling:
  • create an advertorial explaining the very basics of the sport and club membership and send it to households or cultural / community associations in the area;
  • attend cultural festivals or other gatherings and provide the above information directly to participants;
  • approach cultural / community associations and ask to speak to the group about the sport and the club;
  • develop new forms of membership that are family-friendly, involve less of a commitment than traditional membership structures and/or are low cost (at least in the beginning);
  • meet people where they are and invite them in (don’t expect them to seek you out).
2. Build on the image of curling (already held by those who know the sport well and many who don’t) as:
  • a social and fun sport;
  • an affordable winter activity;
  • a source of physical exercise;
  • a door for access into a broader community;
  • family-friendly.
3. Build on and market the recent Olympic success and, in particular, Canada’s curling superstars. 4. Prepare for newcomers by building your multicultural competency:
  • build your knowledge of cultural groups on your area;
  • make the facility a welcoming space for diverse populations;
  • be aware of the financial challenges faced by most new immigrants;
  • be attuned to (and develop strategies for dealing with) incidents of racism or harassment.
5. Share what works (and what doesn’t) with other clubs!
Bélanger, A., & Malenfant, E.C. (2005). Ethnocultural diversity in Canada: Propects for 2017. Statistics Canada No. 11-008. Available at Statistics Canada. (2010). Projections of diversity of the Canadian Population. Available at: Gebhardt, A., & Potwarka, L. (2009). Profile of the Canadian Curler. Report prepared for the Canadian Curling Association. Available at