When looking through the lists of teams competing at the Pacific-Asia Curling Championships 2021, we see that the depth of international curling has expanded despite the smaller field at this year’s event.
Due to travel restrictions and challenges with the pandemic, previous Pacific-Asian nations such as Australia, New Zealand, China and even Nigeria, didn’t make it to this year’s championship.
But for Saudi Arabia, nothing would stop their Men’s team from making their breakthrough appearance on the international curling stage.
Additional developing curling nations such as Qatar and Nigeria have made their debuts within the past five years and now, the newest Pacific-Asia World Curling Member Associations, Saudi Arabia, are joining the list of newcomers.
The Kingdom Curling Association became a World Curling Member in 2017 once approved by the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee.
From sand to ice
But how does an Olympic Winter sport reach a hotbed country with neither snow nor ice?
One major driving force behind this motion is Alastair Fyfe, who played out of Scotland then England for many years. Once Fyfe relocated to Saudi Arabia for work in 2016, he had one mission in mind – to get curling into his new home country.
After mingling through social events and spreading his passion for the sport, he cobbled up enough interest to get some potential curlers to give it a go – on skating ice, of course.
In a shopping mall’s skating rink, not long enough for a single curling sheet, the first stones in Saudi Arabia were thrown. With makeshift hacks built out of wood, a homemade scoreboard, and a “dolly” (Scottish outdoor curling target pin) used as the target, the Saudis began to understand the aim of the game. While delivering their stones diagonally across the ice to get more distance, Fyfe began teaching the fundamentals of curling.
Since then, the Association has made great strides, taking their first step on the international curling stage in 2019 with their Mixed Doubles team of husband and wife Suleiman and Karrie Alaqel. The duo competed in both the World Championship and the World Mixed Doubles Qualification Event.
Now, the Kingdom is expanding its winter athletes, with its first Men’s team competing in Almaty, Kazakhstan at the Pacific-Asia Curling Championships from 7-13 November.
Hussain Hagawi, second player for the inaugural team, believes being on the international stage will bring awareness about curling to his country.
“When they [Saudi Arabians] see our scores, our experience, what we learned here, they will back the game and we will have more support. This is what we are looking for,” he said.
“Curling is new to Saudi Arabia – and we brought it there! You see, we are the team who brought curling to Saudi Arabia,” Hagawi smiled in reference to his teammates.
“It’s really fantastic for the Saudis to see, that we are international. We have a national team and that’s going to bring so much positivity to curling in Saudi Arabia.”
Due to a last-minute team lineup change due to one of the four Saudis being injured, coach Alastair Fyfe has been skipping the Saudi squad in Almaty.
“We have been with Mr. Alastair Fyfe who is our national coach for a long time, since we started in 2017, and now we are here!” Hagawi said.
Despite not winning a game, the team has shown great promise on the ice, bringing many of their matches down to the final end. With the experience of Fyfe on the ice, the team has continued to learn and improve each game.
“In general, our goal this week is to introduce a new winter sport to Saudi Arabia,” confirmed Hagawi. “So far, it is fantastic!” He added his appreciation of the support provided by the new Saudi Winter Sports Federation and the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee.
This year marks not only the 30th edition of the Pacific-Asia Curling Championships, but the final year of the competition as well. As of 2022, the championships will merge with another World Curling Zone – the Americas. Together, the two zones will create a large singular championship called the Pan-Continental Curling Championships.
The newly formed championship will see teams qualify for the World Championships through a tiered system, similar to the A, B and C-Divisions of the European Championships.
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