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Where EAST meets the Northwest

QATAR CURLERS. Hanan Al Boinin of Qatar, center, throws a stone during a round-robin curling match against Japan at the Asian Winter Games in Sapporo, on the northern island of Hokkaido. For the Qatar womenís curling team, just about everything is a new experience. The fledgling curlers are doing their best to get up to speed in the sport, but itís a huge challenge when one lives in a desert. (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)

From The Asian Reporter, V27, #5 (March 6, 2017), page 5.

Desert to ice: Qatar takes on curling at Asian Winter Games

By Jim Armstrong

AP Sports Writer

SAPPORO, Japan ó For the Qatar womenís 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 Qatarís players to curling? Some of them in Japan for the Asian Winter Games in Sapporo had never experienced snow before.

The fledgling curlers have done their best to get up to speed, but itís a huge challenge when one lives in a desert. The Qatari women can train only one day a week on ice that is not up to international standards.

Itís a tough road ahead. Qatar lost 1-17 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 ó even to winter sports.

The Qatari womenís team is coached by Hungarian 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 ó and 15 male curlers ó 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. Japanís womenís team is ranked sixth and won a silver medal in the 2016 world championships.

"We can play the sport anywhere and want to make it a truly global sport," said Kate Caithness, president of the World Curling Federation.

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