Crowdfunding helps European Member Associations grow

  • Belgium in action in Esbjerg Photo: WCF / Laura Godenzi (Sport Media Trainee)

Curling teams across Europe are turning to crowdfunding to pay for big-ticket expenses such as ice surface improvements and competition travel.

Belgium’s men’s curling team, who are competing at the Le Gruyère European Curling Championships (ECC) 2015 in Esbjerg, Denmark this week, say they’re in desperate need of a dedicated curling ice surface, and they’ve launched a crowdfunding campaign to help.

Unlike many countries at the ECC 2015, they don’t have access to a made-for-curling ice sheet. Curling Club Mechelen, where Belgium’s men’s team curls, operates out of a hockey arena in Zemst, about half an hour north of Brussels, where its teams can only practise a few hours a week – and only between 10pm and midnight.

Curling Club Mechelen says building the country’s first dedicated-curling ice surface will cost €400,000. It hopes crowdfunding will raise €30,000 towards the project. So far, it’s already raised more than €17,000.

“We’ve already created a good buzz around this and people are really trying to help us,” said Belgian third Tom van Waterschoot.

Anna Fowler, who skips England’s women’s squad – another team competing at the ECC 2015 in the B-Division – says her team also turned to crowdfunding because of the high cost of travel to international events.

A month after launching their crowdfunding page online, they’d raised over £2,200. Together with private donations and a further £1,200 given to them by the English Curling Association, it was enough to cover their trip to Esbjerg.

“It really helped us because we do spend a lot of time trying to get sponsorship, but it’s really difficult – especially because it’s a minority sport in England,” Fowler said.

Fowler said playing at elite tournaments is important for her team to be able to improve. But, she also said paying out of pocket to train in Scotland and travel to several international tournaments can be draining – mentally, as well as financially.

“The crowdfunding takes a bit of pressure off because obviously you want to be training, but then you have to be worried about money to pay for everything,” she said.

Belgian men’s coach and alternate Pieter Meijlaers said his club’s crowdfunding project is especially important because without the proper facilities or ice time availability, it can’t retain members or attract young people to curling.

“We don’t have any younger people playing today. We don’t have any juniors’ tournaments because we don’t have the people to do it,” he said.

Van Waterschoot also believes Belgium’s national curling programs would benefit ten-fold from access to high-level training facilities.

“It’s hard to compete against those countries because they have a lot of players that can train every day or every week. We can train once a month – if we go to Holland [Netherlands are also competing in Denmark this week, the men in the A-Division and women in the B-Division],” he said.

“You have to train well. You have to have the opportunity, if you want to compete at a high level, to have at least three, four times a week to be on good ice. You can’t level up when you don’t have a good facility.”

But, Van Waterschoot said he hopes a new ice surface will breathe life back into the curling club – and curling in Belgium in general. He said the crowdfunding campaign has brought media attention to the club and is raising its profile in the community.

“People are interested,” said van Waterschoot. “As a club it will give us more opportunities to grow and to get more members to join.”

For more information on Curling Club Mechelen’s crowdfunding campaign, visit: http://fr.ulule.com/curlingbaan/description/

To follow Belgium and England in the Le Gruyère European Curling Championships 2015 B-Division, visit: http://www.worldcurling.org/ecc2015/b-division-live-scores

by Patrick Butler (Journalism Sport Media Trainee)