Glynhill Ladies International: The amateur who hosts a ranking event
Last updated on .From the section Winter Sports
|Glynhill Ladies International|
|Venue: Braehead Ice Rink, Glasgow Date: 14-17 January|
Somehow, Alan Sloan is showing all the strain of a gardener admiring his Begonias.
You wouldn't know by his relaxed demeanour that he has been rushing between Glasgow Airport, the competitors' hotel and Braehead ice rink, the venue for the Glynhill Ladies International curling competition.
And yet the 69-year-old seems neither up nor down. All is well.
"It's all in the planning," he chuckles, with no trace of smugness. "And, with this being the tournament's ninth year, we've had plenty of practice at organising things."
Sloan, a retired PR manager for a large bank, and nine others in the organising committee are unpaid amateur curling enthusiasts who manage to attract many of the sport's top women's teams to the Renfrewshire tournament every January.
This year, for example, the reigning European champions, skipped by Anna Sidorova, are here hoping to defend their title in Sunday's final.
The Russians' main rival for the beautiful kettle trophy is likely to come from the silver medal winners at the Sochi Olympics, Margaretha Sigfridsson's Swedish team.
Of the other rinks, last year's Glynhill runners-up, the South Korean team led by Eun Jung Kim, also have a chance. They beat the Canadian Olympic champion Jennifer Jones' rink in the Canada Inns Classic in October.
Sidorova, Sigfridsson and Kim's rinks are three of 24 teams taking part from 11 nations.
There are six Scottish rinks in the competition, the best-placed likely to be those of Hannah Fleming and Lauren Gray, now with their own teams but previously team-mates when they won the world junior title in 2012.
Home favourite Eve Muirhead is not taking part this year, though, since the event clashes with a lucrative invitation to play in the Continental Cup in Las Vegas.
It is testament to Sloan and his friends' organisational abilities and charm that the tournament takes place at all.
They have built the Glynhill tournament to such an extent that it is now an accredited event on the Curling Champions Tour - the sport's equivalent of golf's PGA Tour - and the ranking points won at Braehead count towards World Curling Federation rankings.
The athletes speak warmly of the competition's friendly atmosphere, with each rink "adopted" by a local curling club to make their visit an enjoyable one, whatever the results on the ice.
It is worth considering how many other sports could witness a group of amateur players stage a ranking tournament.
The prize fund of £9,000 is modest: it would barely cover the cost of flights, food and accommodation for a coach and four or five athletes.
Yet still they come.
"We are very proud of this event," says Sloan.
"It's a quality field. The best teams in the world will be competing against six of our best Scottish teams. There's always a wonderful atmosphere.
"Curling is one of these games where there is great friendship between the teams. They respect each other and it makes for even better curling.
"Every February, we look at what we could have done better. The entries go out in April and we pull together 40 local volunteers, who do it for the love of the sport.
"By the end of September, we know the field we'll have. The teams fly in from everywhere - Korea, Japan, Sweden, Russia. The logistics take up the time."
So how exactly do you get permission to invite the world's best players to your local rink?
"We, as a local curling centre, can apply to the Curling Champions Tour to put on an international tournament," explains Sloan, who plays for Glasgow XX and Pollok curling clubs three times a week.
"We ask them to accept us. There are strict controls for prize money, the type of tournament - four sections of six teams - and once we satisfy all the regulations then we get their blessing. We fine-tune things and then sign a contract.
"We've got a great core bunch of volunteers. Braehead is a proven curling centre with excellent ice.
"The first few years is a learning curve, like anything, but we have a lot of experience of international events - we've had World Championships and Silver Brooms here in the west of Scotland.
"Curling is not a rich sport. The winners get £3,000. These teams are here for ranking points.
"It is important for them to do well in the Curling Champions Tour events because that way they get the points and then get the funding from their national associations.
"That allows them to compete in World Championships and Olympics. The money is nice but incidental."
And for Sloan and his friends?
"Our joy, of course, is seeing the competitors enjoying the tournament," he says.
"They keep coming back. That's the seal of approval, if you like."