Michael Houston ©ITG

In September, the World Curling Federation (WCF) will have a new face as their President, with the 12-year reign of Kate Caithness set to come to an end.

Caithness has been at the helm since 2010, succeeding Canada's Les Harrison not long after the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

Term limits bring her time as President to an end at the General Assembly in September, in which she will depart as the longest-serving leader of the WCF to date.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, she surpassed the lengthy tenure of Brigadier Colin A. Campbell, who previously served 10 years between 1969 and 1979.

Twelve years does not seem too long compared to the astonishing 23 years that the late Gian Franco Kasper was President of the International Ski Federation, or the 26 years that Josef Fendt was in charge of the International Luge Federation; but today, with improved governance standards, it is often the maximum term.

It speaks volumes of her popularity as a leader that she has held the position for as long as she legally can, seeing out her final Winter Olympics and Paralympics at Beijing 2022.

The Scot won the 2010 election against the incumbent Harrison at the WCF's Annual General Meeting in Cortina d'Ampezzo, showing her ability to bring new ideas to the table while ousting her boss.

Harrison at the time suggested, in an interview with New Brunswick publication Telegraph-Journal, that he had Caithness' support in December 2006, but this was reverted months later in what he claimed was "all about more European control". Canada was for a long time, a dominant powerhouse in international curling and remains the most sophisticated nation in the sport, with great depth.

World Curling Federation's Kate Caithness is into her last year as President ©Getty Images
World Curling Federation's Kate Caithness is into her last year as President ©Getty Images

Caithness was one of the key names involved in getting wheelchair curling on the programme for the Turin 2006 Paralympics. The same year as those Games, she became the WCF vice-president for two two-year terms. She was re-elected unopposed as President in 2012, 2014 and 2018.

One line that is omnipresent in news stories about her is this: "Caithness became the first female President of an Olympic Winter Sports Federation when she was elected". 

Even now, you would be able to fit all the women who lead Olympic International Federations into a taxi. Marisol Casado has led World Triathlon since 2008, while the International Golf Federation has been led by Annika Sörenstam for just over a year and Petra Sörling became the new President of the International Table Tennis Federation in November.

Being in this exclusive club has had its advantages for Caithness, who has acknowledged the privileges that the spotlight has given her.

"Being only one of two female Olympic International Federation Presidents for the last 12 years - although over the last year there have been two more - has been good for curling," said Caithness to insidethegames during the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games.

Although this has had its advantages and made her a role model to others seeking sports administrative positions in the future, the WCF President made it clear that it was still a great barrier to the top, of which she hopes the next generation can topple with more ease.

World Triathlon President Marisol Casado for long was the only other female Olympic International Federation President alongside Kate Caithness ©Getty Images
World Triathlon President Marisol Casado for long was the only other female Olympic International Federation President alongside Kate Caithness ©Getty Images

"It's being a female," said Caithness when asked what the most difficult part of sports administration was.

"I came in here and I’m happy they've embraced me and they’re trying to make a platform for future women. 

"Once I became President I was totally accepted. 

"I found my place and I don't think a woman should ever be scared of stepping into this role anywhere - it's just part and parcel of sport. 

"There are more and more women stepping up. 

"I would say to never be scared to do it because I would certainly pass the baton onto another woman. 

"There's a lot more women in the sport and in the International Olympic Committee (IOC)."

Of the 105 IOC members, now 40 of them are women, with 19 being appointed over the past five years. There is a clear push for better representation across the Olympic Movement - something that has been present in curling too.

One of the great success stories in winter sports recently has been the emergence of mixed doubles curling. As the name suggests, teams are made up of one man and one woman, bringing a different dynamic to the traditional four-person events that usually come to mind. 

Although the introduction of the discipline came in 2008 - during Harrison's reign - Caithness was successful in getting the sport onto the programme for the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games. Since then, several developing nations got their foot in the international door by competing at the World Mixed Doubles Qualification Event, which first took place in 2019.

Italians Amos Mosaner and Stefania Constantini won the Olympic gold medal in mixed doubles curling at Beijing 2022 ©Getty Images
Italians Amos Mosaner and Stefania Constantini won the Olympic gold medal in mixed doubles curling at Beijing 2022 ©Getty Images

At Beijing 2022, teams comprised of childhood friends, married couples and most importantly, a pair of Italians who made Olympic history for their nation. Amos Mosaner and Stefania Constantini have tasted some success in four-person teams, but showed how strong they were as a duo by winning Italy's first Olympic gold medal in curling.

"I think for the smaller countries, this is the perfect opportunity to get to the Olympics," added Caithness.

"One man and one woman is much easier to find than a four-man or four-woman team and to compete at this level."

Mixed doubles ends saw some high scores, with the matches less predictable. Errors when the stones are delivered prove more costly without the help of extra sweepers.

Wheelchair mixed doubles curling is set to make its debut at the Milan Cortina 2026 Winter Paralympic Games after making the provisional programme, one of the final major milestones during her tenure.

These two-person disciplines have opened the gate to several nations finding a way into the sport, with only two curlers needed and giving more female disabled curlers a spot.

"I took over just after Vancouver 2010 and the number of countries has increased 30 per cent which is quite amazing and takes us that step further," added Caithness.

"The introduction of mixed doubles and wheelchair mixed doubles - which we have got into the 2026 Paralympics - is a step forward too.

"The 'wheelies' wanted another medal event and we gave them one. 

"When I started wheelchair curling, that had to be mixed teams.

"In mixed doubles, it's total gender equality, it shows there's no difference really between them [men and women].

"We've got our first dedicated curling facility in South America and in Nigeria and Kenya. 

"Our sport has come on leaps and bounds. 

"It's widely been regarded as the fastest-growing winter sport."

Wheelchair curling is set to get a mixed doubles event for Milan Cortina 2026 ©Getty Images
Wheelchair curling is set to get a mixed doubles event for Milan Cortina 2026 ©Getty Images

At the time of her election, Slovenia had become the 46th member of the WCF. Now, there are 67 with the most-recent addition of Kenya.

With a tongue firmly in cheek, Caithness was dubbed by some within the WCF workforce as "Queen Kate" - a nod to her position as President as well as her well-spoken manner. Yet, she is an approachable administrator, far removed from executive boxes and is a frequenter at wrap events on the World Curling circuit with the staff.

She was first involved in the sport in the 1980s as a player in Stirlingshire after accompanying her husband Ron at his matches, and in 1997 and 1998 was the President of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club's ladies branch, before working towards positions at the WCF.

Caithness cites her years as a curler for staying humble and focusing on the development of the sport which has contributed to her success, urging for that grounded personality to stay in future.

"I'd say ‘be yourself'," said the WCF President. 

"Say what you mean and mean what you say; and treat everyone the same in our sport. 

"Nobody is any better than each other - from the person that cleans the ice to the President. 

"I don't feel myself to be more important than anyone else in our sport. 

"It shouldn't be a 'them and us' it should be a family. 

"I can go anywhere in the world and go into an ice rink and feel welcome, not because I'm the President but because I'm a curler; I would like to see that continue."

When a President is set to leave their role, reflection on their tenure will always be scrutinised. While a few of the new rules being trialled at the World Championships have faced heated opposition, curling has largely steered away from controversy. When your biggest scandal over the past few years is a sex shop's logo featuring on your Olympic Qualification Event stream, you know the governance has worked.

insidethegames reporter Michael Houston was a former trainee journalist at the World Curling Federation ©WCF/Richard Gray
insidethegames reporter Michael Houston was a former trainee journalist at the World Curling Federation ©WCF/Richard Gray

That legacy has been felt by this author, who was part of the WCF trainee programme that invites journalists and photographers to its global events for experience of world sport from a communications background. Not only was I able to experience the warmth of the team, but it set me up for future opportunities with the WCF and elsewhere, including here at insidethegames.

Five former trainees were working at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games either with the governing body or elsewhere, with at least three being present for the Paralympics. Every WCF photographer is a former trainee too.

"Our trainee programme has been outstanding," said Caithness.

"Look at our journalists and photographers, they've gone on to greater things. 

"They come in as a trainee, straight from college or university and still come and work for us years later, and they still come back and work for us when required. 

"The media is going from strength-to-strength.

"There are young people coming in and wanting to come back and work for us."

Caithness seemed to indicate from her answers that there may be candidates behind the scenes yet to campaign, but for now, we are in the dark about who might be the new leader of curling. Transitional periods in International Federations can be tumultuous, and a continuation of good governance is one of her main wishes for the future. 

"Sharing best practices is a must," she explained. 

"Listening to other federations and listening to other winter sports and summer sports. 

"Gender equality is a big issue as well as well as athlete representation, which is a big step forward - they are our future. 

"You look around, there are many who are now National Olympic Committee and International Olympic Committee (IOC) members. 

"Everything is passed through our Athletes’ Commission.

"We always come to a middle road, and we always listen to them. 

"Our members take the final decision, but we make sure that we’ve consulted with them and had their input before taking it forward to our members."

Kate Caithness stressed that athletes' voices were important to keep curling successful in future ©Getty Images
Kate Caithness stressed that athletes' voices were important to keep curling successful in future ©Getty Images

Some of those improvements include having the chair of the WCF Athletes' Commission on the governing body's Board and an upgrade of ice technology, which has allowed more accessible facilities for developing nations. However, the focus remains on permanent rinks.

"Our biggest platform has been dedicated curling facilities," said Caithness.

"I hope my successor does the same - keep pushing."

Seven years on from my first handshake with the President at the World Women's Curling Championship, the one in Beijing was likely my last with Caithness in charge. Now, she is on the farewell tour with the World Women's Championship concluding today in Prince George, before the World Men's Championship gets underway in Las Vegas on Saturday (April 2). 

The World Junior Curling Championships in Jönköping in May will be the Scot's final international competition as chief before the season closes.

Fittingly, Lausanne will be the host of the 2022 World Curling Congress in September, the main hub for sports politics and governance and the home of the IOC. Curling's spot on the Olympic programme looks snug for now and seems to be growing in countries where other winter sports are impossible.

In six months, Caithness will have a sharp drop in travel days for business - in which she estimates she has 150 of a year - and will have plenty more time to have a round of golf in Edzell, near her hometown of Inchbare in the Scottish council area of Angus.

While she is smacking a ball down the fairway, her successor will be hoping to keep curling out the rough. After overcoming challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic, the WCF President is optimistic yet sorrowful about the handover.

"It will be sad for me to pass over the baton, but I think {after} 12 years it will be time to pass that baton onto somebody else," said Caithness.

"It won't be a happy passing.

"I'll feel quite confident of handing over the sport in a good place and financially sound."