#PACC2017 hosts Australia, “Curling could be the destination sport”

  • Australia Curling's vice-president Ian Pallangio thinks hosting curling in summer climates could catch on Photo: © WCF / Richard Gray

Picture the scene. It’s November. You’re on the beach with your finest flip-flops – or crocs – soaking up the rays. You jump in the car and ten minutes later you are in a building discarding your flip-flops for some cosy socks and shoes. Your beach bod is now covered with a few layers of insulated clothing and those swim shorts are replaced by jeans and a blanket.

I should probably mention that this will be the reality, for many, from tomorrow in Australia when the Pacific-Asia Curling Championships 2017 get underway. Winter sports are often associated with cold places, but it’s not always the case – the last Olympic Winter Games were held in Sochi, Russia, which was better known for its beaches than its skiing.

Also, the World Curling Federation has already awarded Las Vegas the World Men’s Curling Championship 2018, so there is faith in this concept. However, before the sport meets the glitz of the casino-cladded ‘Fabulous Las Vegas’, a small Australian town sandwiched either side of Sydney and Newcastle will be one of the first to host in summer conditions. That town is Erina.

It has been 21 years since Australia last hosted the championships – which took place in Sydney – and the return to the country has the native curlers excited.

Ian Palangio, who is the Vice-President of the Australian Curling Federation as well as the third on the Australian men’s team at the event, believes there’s a real atmosphere in the local area.

“In Erina the support has been substantial from the local ice sports members – hockey players, speed skaters, and figure skaters,” says Ian. “Erina is a small town, and an international sporting event being hosted is a big deal – being a winter sport has brought extra interest and intrigue.”

The intrigue doesn’t just come from the town though. While local Aussies will be anticipating the ice, the curling fans who are used to the wintery conditions will be intrigued by the hot climate. Ian’s hoping that this trend continues frequently over the coming years, “A warm weather event, I hope, will be part of a trend and a more common approach to making the location of an event a desirable destination.

“Historically curling events are in popular curling centres such as central Canada, Scandinavia or Japan. A warm destination is great for fans who maybe want to enjoy a break from their winter.”

Ian thinks the inclusion of Las Vegas is also an encouraging sign to transform the sport to a wider audience, “hosting the Men’s World Championships in Las Vegas in April 2018 is also a compelling destination for those to travel to, holiday, and watch some of the best curling you can find. Curling could be ‘the destination sport’.”

Since the 1996 championships in Sydney, a lot has changed. The 2017 instalment will mark the first time that Australia has hosted the championships with Olympic-quality ice, thanks to the work of ice-maker, Jamie Bourassa. For most Australian curlers, this quality of ice will be completely new territory and will allow more improvement in the sport. Palangio’s side have experienced this quality before. They have been putting work in at a World Curling Federation high-performance training camp - the Stepping Stones programme - which was hosted in New Zealand and they have been taking advantage of any ice time that they can get.

And, this year is vital for Australia. The past few years have been particularly difficult, from a results perspective, but Ian’s expecting a turnaround and a return to the play-offs this season.

“For the men, our goal is to continue to play well through the round-robin and make the play-offs,” he says. “Looking at the field of countries – some have better access to support, ice and resources than others in our region. Japan, China, Chinese Taipei and Korea have significant access to curling ice and train in fantastic conditions. But, once we get on the ice to compete, the athletes’ passion for the game comes alive providing an entertaining style of curling and very close games.”

A move like this could potentially bring Australia back in the fold in terms of worldwide curling. The nation hasn’t won a Pacific-Asia championship since 2006, as the likes of Japan, China and Korea gradually improved to become the three dominant sides in the region today. Ian thinks that lessons need to be learned from Sydney 1996 and hopes that the country will help to support the sport in Australia, “The last Pacific-Asia tournament hosted in 1996 we were left with no residual benefit,” he says. “After that tournament finished and the ice was taken out there was nothing left. There was no equipment, no rocks, no legacy.

“This year, there is a deliberate focus to leverage the event for future benefit. As part of this year’s tournament we have acquired ice making equipment – an Ice Boss with blades, measuring equipment, teaching local volunteers how to make ice, training umpires and time keepers.

“We are also more prepared to use social media to amplify the event and attract interest in the sport. The local curling associations are prepared and ready to answer enquires from the Australian public about how to get involved and try out curling. After the games, we are looking at introducing grassroots development avenues, and have the equipment and knowledge to grow the curling community and work towards finally securing a dedicated curling facility in the country.”

Not only do Australia want to bring a unique style to hosting curling events, but there is a real air of change in their national sport too. After a difficult decade of results and a lack of resources compared to their rivals, Erina could be the turning point in Australian curling. This tiny town could hold the key to improving the nation’s game.

To keep up-to-date with all the action from these championships, and the teams’ journey to the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, follow us on Twitter, Instagram (@worldcurling) and Facebook (/WorldCurlingFederation) and use the hashtags: #PACC2017 #Roadto2018 #curling

by Michael Houston, feature writer