Puffins, China, and Olympics a Threat to Curling?

Usually an increased interest in a sport is a good thing.  More revenues for companies involved in the sport and sponsorships for successful teams.  The Nagano Winter Olympics 1998 Winter Olympics introduced curling as an Olympic sport.  Unless you watch the Olympics or live in an area where curling is popular (not than many locations really), you probably know very little about the sport.  However, being an Olympic event helped to increase the popularity of curling beyond tradition locations such as Canada, the UK, and other European locations.  The growth in curling has been centered in Asia.  China has become a curling powerhouse and looks for the gold in Vancouver 2010 as their women’s team is the defending world champions.  But popularity is not necessarily a good thing for curling.

Curling involves sliding 40lb granite rocks down a sheet of ice toward a target.  Some liken the sport to shuffleboard on ice but curling is much more complex that that involving people with brooms strategically sweeping the ice.  The key to all of this is the granite rock.  You see not any old granite will do for elite curling (international competitions such as the Olympics and World Championships).  The elite stones are carved from blue hone granite.  The stones strength (curling stones do hit one another) and ability to not absorb water make them perfect for the sport.  But there is only one source for blue hone granite in all of the world, Ailsa Craig a 104-acre off the coast of Scotland.  For images of the the island try http://www.maybole.org/photogallery/ailsacraig/ailsacraig2.htm.  Kays of Scotland have exclusive rights to the island and its blue hone granite.  To learn more about the curling stones themselves visit http://www.kaysofscotland.co.uk/about.cfm.

So where do puffins fit it?  Puffins nest on Ailsa Craig.  In the 1960s the puffins and other native birds disappeared.  A government study found the problem, rats.  The rats had been brought to the island by the granite miners.  Ailsa Craig was declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest and in the 1990s all commercial activity was stopped.  Currently, Ailsa Craig is a bird reserve managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.  So Kays can no longer mine blue hone granite.  In 2001, Kays was granted a one day permit to take as much loose granite from the island as could.  They were not allowed to blast, the common way to extract granite.  Kays collect about 1,500 tons that day.

So there is a finite supply of blue hone granite at this time.  No elite curlers can use Welsh granite but that is not good enough for elite competition.  On average, 180 tons of blue hone granite are used per year.  A complete curling set-up costs around $30,000 so the expense holds down the demand.  A curling stone lasts from 30 to 40 years so there are replacement stones as well as those looking to enter the elite levels.  Estimates place the supply at from 10 to 20 years.  Kays is working to persuade the government to allow another harvest.  There is still plenty of loose stone and new, environmentally friendly blasting techniques have been developed.  Still there is no guarantee Kays will ever harvest blue hone granite from Ailsa Craig again.  A sport holds its breath as its main piece of equipment may become extinct http://sports.yahoo.com/olympics/vancouver/curling/news?slug=dw-curling021810&prov=yhoo&type=lgns

So, the packed 6,000 curling arena in Vancouver is both a happy and a frightening sight for international curling.  It is happy site as fans want to see curling and are very loud in their support of their teams.  Most are there to support the Canadian women’s and men’s teams.  But if the popularity of curling continues to increase, the supply of blue hone granite will be used up more quickly thereby hastening the crisis that it the end of blue hone granite. 

Questions to Consider

  1.  Kays is engaging is issues management to allow another harvest.  What are some key points they will have to address in this effort?
  2. How does this case illustrate the effects of globalization?
  3. Who could Kays recruit as allies in their issues management effort and why might each ally be helpful to their effort?
  4. Should national curling associations be trying to promote the sport?  Why or why not?
  5. What actions can be taken to protect the blue hone granite supply for elite level competition and how can the various national curling associations help with that effort?
  6. What role can public relations play in trying to alleviate this looming crisis?
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