Dungeons and Dragons of Polish Curling

24 August 2020 12:28 · Paweł Świątkowski

2020 is a coming-of-age year for curling on Polish soil. It all started in 2002 with a few dedicated people who wanted to start playing this then-exotic sport. The beginnings were humble as there were no equipment and no areas to train. One of the early curlers told stories of the first practices taking place at a private home, using a toy turtle with a handle attached as a curling rock. Then it came to camping late at night at ice skating rinks to have some time on the actual ice. And the first clubs were founded.

Today we have a professional four-sheets curling arena in Łódź. There is a national league system (with three levels for men and two for women), a curling camp in Mazury and a number of bonspiels. Unfortunately, none of this happened because of the actions of Polish Curling Association (PCA, Polski Związek Curlingu or PZC in Polish). Sometimes things were born despite their activity, actively opposing development of curling in directions they could not supervise.

The trouble begins

Polish Curling Association was first created as Polska Federacja Curlingu and became a member of the World Curling Federation in 2003. Curlers decided to appoint Marek Jóźwik, a widely known sports journalist, as their chairman. The idea was to get publicity early using his fame and connections, and state funding should follow. The reality turned out to be quite far from this vision. Jóźwik with his secretary Andrzej Janowski quickly turned the association into their private little empire, into which money from the Ministry of Sports flowed in but then frequently magically disappeared. Even though there were many passionate people taking up curling in many parts of the country, the discipline as a whole went into a stall.

It's hard to say when Polish curlers lost hope of a happy ending of this situation. Perhaps it was when Jóźwik and Janowski admitted a non-existing karate club as a member of the association to win a vote. Or maybe when in 2010, despite a funding of 450 000 zlotys (about 100 000 €) from the Ministry of Sports, PCA failed to pay a membership fee to European Curling Association, resulting in relegation of Polish national teams to the lowest class in European Championships. Or perchance it was also in 2010, when two people were co-opted to the board to vote expulsion of nine out of seventeen clubs from the ranks of PCA (incidentally, these were the clubs that tried to overthrow Jóźwik, calling an extraordinary general meeting).

Meanwhile the Ministry of Sports intervened. The results of the audit were crushing. The ministry obliged PCA to return a few hundred thousand zlotys from the subventions, making the PCA effectively bankrupt. From this point all official events, i.e. the national championships, would be organized by subsidiary organizations, often strongly connected to members of the board of PCA.

The curlers from the expelled clubs regrouped and decided to form their own organization. In 2014 Polish Curling Club's Federation (Polska Fedaracja Klubów Curlingowych, PFKC) was created, associating mainly curling clubs expelled by PCA a few years back. In the 2014/15 season it managed to create its first nationwide league competition - something that the official association had not even attempted to do in recent years. Some time later a professional curling area was built in Łódź, funded completely from private capital. This, on the other side, is something that PCA attempted before, but failed.

No way out

In January 2018 Marek Jóźwik stepped down as chairman of PCA. This event was received as a possible trigger for changes towards healing the situation in the association. But these hopes were quickly crushed. The board co-opted Andrzej Jaworski as a new chairman, a politician of the ruling party and another person not connected to curling in any way. The new chairman only lasted a few months before resigning too. Since it was not allowed to co-opt again, the Association had to hold general elections. In order to win them, the board performed the same old trick with admitting non-curling clubs as it did years before. It became obvious who still rules the PCA and that there is no way to remove those people using democratic ways.

The new chairman, Mariusz Olchowik, was mostly a PR person. He frequented some bonspiels and championships, posing for photos and promising financial awards for the best teams. Unfortunately those promises were never met. After the next few months it came to public attention that Olchowik was also convicted before and it was against the law to be a chairman of a sports association with that kind of record.

To prevent losing power, the board members found a legal loophole: they were only obliged to start a general assembly leading to elections. And so they did, but then after a few hours it was paused and it never came to a vote. And so it is suspended, for more that year and half now, and PCA functions without the chairman.

In the meantime, more audits, especially from the Supreme Audit Office, were performed. The scale of irregularities was sometimes ridiculous - from having the office under different address that was registered, via Andrzej Janowski paying with PCA's money to Andrzej Janowski for "transport service", to renting a home in Warsaw, which was not really used by the association, but where one member of PCA board was living and having his other company registered. All this of course sprinkled with invalid invoices (or no invoices at all) and other financial irregularities.

In the beginning of the 2020 Polish Curling Association was suspended as a member of World Curling Federation. And although it sounds like the lowest point of curling development in Poland, it would be quite hard to find actual players sharing that sentiment. A common view is that it cannot be fixed at this point, it needs to be ploughed over and we need to start over, with a different organization representing us in the world. WCF plans to debate the issue in the meeting in September and many players hope that, unlike the government which kept a blind eye for years, PCA will not be given "another chance".