Mon, Feb 20, 2017 - Page 12 News List

Qatari women take on curling at Games

AP, SAPPORO, Japan

For the Qatar women’s curling team, just about everything is a new experience.

Curling, a sport that has links with medieval Scotland and is more suited to the Canadian prairies, has taken a small foothold in the Middle East.

Just how new are Qatar’s players to curling? Some of them in Japan for the Asian Winter Games in Sapporo had never experienced snow before.

The fledgling curlers are doing their best to get up to speed, but it is a huge challenge when you live in a desert. The Qatari women can train only one day per week on ice that is not up to international standards.

It will be a tough road ahead. Qatar on Saturday lost 17-1 to Japan in a preliminary-round game at Sapporo Curling Stadium.

“For now, we are training more to get experience and know more about the game and its strategies,” said skip Maryam Binali, who has been throwing stones for just 11 months. “We learned a lot from the Japanese team today, because they are more experienced, but hopefully we will do well.”

University student Binali said she likes the sense of teamwork.

Players in Qatar train on a public rink shared by figure skaters and ice hockey players. There are only two ice rinks in Doha, so ice time comes at a premium.

Soccer is the most popular sport in Qatar, but the country is looking to broaden its sporting horizons — even to winter sports.

Qatar’s women’s team is coached by Lajos Belleli, who is a seven-time Hungarian champion.

“[Curling] is totally new and strange, a winter sport in one of the hottest countries in the world,” Belleli said. “Curling is totally new there, so I have to convince people that this will be good for them, which is not easy, but a nice challenge.”

So far there are just seven female players — and 15 male curlers — in Qatar, which is the only country in the Middle East that has joined the World Curling Federation.

Qatar could take inspiration from Japan, a country that has rapidly developed in the sport.

Japan’s women’s team is ranked sixth and won the silver medal at last year’s world championships.

“We can play the sport anywhere and want to make it a truly global sport,” federation president Kate Caithness said.

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