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Saudi curling update

It’s almost a year since I described our first steps on the introduction of the sport of curling to Saudi Arabia. So how are we doing? Well, we are still active, and still growing. During 2018 after the inaugural day in February, we played every three or four weeks when we could muster enough people (12 minimum) to pay for the ice rink fees. But as the year progressed, we managed to get enough people to play fortnightly. By the end of 2018 we had held 15 curling days, had 87 different people come and try the sport and of these 25 have signed up as Kingdom Curling Association members.

From week 9 onwards we have been running a league, 16 people responded to a call for interest for competitive curling and we have a small challenge underway. The competition is of a double round-robin format (i.e. each team plays each other twice) and there are 12 games in total. Each curling day we split our time into two sessions, at 10.00 a league game and at 11.30 a fun game. At the latter there is a 10 minute introduction talk about the sport and then 15 minutes or so basic coaching session to help new people find their feet. There is almost a 50/50 split in people coming back to play again, and those who don’t. But even if we never see them again, they are still helping by spreading news of our existence by word of mouth, and they talk positively of their experience of playing a winter Olympic sport in the middle of the Arabian desert.

IMG-20181027-WA0002jpgHappy curlers in Riyadh


Note the dolly and scratched rings...outdoors stuff used indoors!

But we don’t really want too much publicity, because if we have a great influx of wannabee curlers, we couldn’t cater for them and that would lead to much negativity. Conversely, we need to have enough curlers to keep the sport going, and importantly to demonstrate to the sporting hierarchy that we are a viable proposition and worth getting behind. At the moment, we are in a bit of a ‘Catch-22’ situation, we need more curlers (and if word spreads quickly, there are likely to be 1,000s of people wanting to try the sport) but we couldn’t cope with them, not until we get proper ice sheets and equipment to cater for many simultaneous games. And of course, coaches to welcome the new people and properly induct them into the sport, starting with an introduction into the ‘Spirit of Curling’.

 IMG-20180310-WA0013jpgMore happy curlers

Why do I think that we could see 1,000s of people? Well, nearly all the Saudis who have come and tried the sport have been very enthusiastic about it, and many have returned and brought family or friends with them. The Kingdom is going through a great social change, in my 2 years and 10 months here I have seen seismic changes in a short time – introduction of entertainment (cinemas, theatre etc), relaxation of dress codes (albeit slight), ladies being allowed to drive and many less obvious ones. This has enthused the younger generation – and it should be noted that unlike western countries the Saudis have a very low average age (the median age here is 27.5 compared to the UK at 40.5) – and they are hungry for more change, including sporting opportunity. Sport has assumed a higher profile since the national football team qualified for the 2018 World Cup in Russia and actually won a game there too, and on the back of an explosion of fast-food outlets there is growing realisation of the need for health and exercise. Influential Saudis have told me that with the minimum of advertisement, we could see huge numbers of young Saudis heading our way.

So, next and highest priority on our list is getting proper facilities. We continue to have dialogue with the National Olympic Committee, and we are started on the route to achieving the targets they have set us. We had a scheduled meeting with them in November, and when three of our committee turned up at their rather sumptuous offices in Riyadh, we were advised that the Prince (in charge of sport and recreation) wanted to see us. This could surely only be good news. So we trekked round to his office and were told that we had to apply for an audience. So my Saudi committee members completed the form and gave contact numbers. As I write though, we are still awaiting our turn to meet him. There was a Government reshuffle in early January and the sports minister Prince was swapped over. However, we have checked and we are still in the queue awaiting the Prince’s pleasure.

So what news do we have for the Prince? As well as the activity described above, we have made progress elsewhere. Previously I reported on the Kingdom Curling Association being admitted to the first (of three) tier of membership of the World Curling Federation. This allowed us to tap into the Development Assistance Programme and buy the starter equipment we have. Every year the WCF holds a Congress and in September Elaine and I represented the Kingdom at the 2018 event at Budapest. Here we were able to make formal presentations and explain our progress and plans for the future. As the KCA we had applied to the WCF for advancement to the second tier of membership and were present in the chamber when Lorne DePape (New Zealand) proposed us and Susan Kesley (Scotland) seconded the proposal. The Congress voted and we were admitted to Provisional membership level. This now permits Saudi Arabian representative teams to enter some WCF competitions. We also had a meeting with the WCF Secretary-General at his HQ in Perth (Scotland) in December which was very useful in understanding the way that various rules and obligations are applied.

AF at WCF Congress Sept 2018JPGPresenting to the WCF at Budapest

I had planned to do a blog item on our trip to Budapest, but things conspired and it didn’t get written. It’s a lovely place, so if you get the chance to go there, do so.

I have done some analysis of the 95 people (I have added the 2019 new folk to the record) who have tried the sport, and see that we have had participants from 22 different countries. As we are targeting Saudis to grow the sport we need as many of them as possible, and it is nice to note that we have had 25 of them so far, including 3 juniors. From my records here’s a breakdown of participants, by country of origin.

Argentina – 2

Australia – 2

Canada – 4

Czech - 4

Djibouti - 1

Germany - 2

France – 3

Ireland – 2

Italy – 3

Japan – 1

Lebanon – 2

New Zealand – 2

Palestine – 1

Poland – 2

Russia – 1

Saudi Arabia – 25

South Africa – 5

Spain - 5

Switzerland – 1

UK – 22

USA – 5

Yemen - 1

Quite a diverse base of players! We have to work hard to keep the ex-pat numbers up as with the way of employment here, ex-pats come and go constantly, sometimes with little notice of departure. If I do get wind of anyone leaving I try and let them know of their own country’s curling associations so that they can contact and pick up the sport there, if of course it is a curling country.

Key to the success is having a good and dedicated committee of people who curl, and this helps of course. The two Saudis on the committee are crucial as they know their way around the administration and bureaucracy. Lots of positives in there, lets hope that we continue to grow and succeed in our long term goals of getting proper ice facilities and development.

IMG-20180310-WA0013jpgIMG-20180325-WA0013jpgIMG-20181027-WA0002jpgAF at WCF Congress Sept 2018JPG

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