Contact us

Saudis in Scotland

So, off to our second international curling competition, the World Mixed Doubles Curling Qualification event. This was held at Greenacres Curling Club, in rural Renfrewshire, south of Paisley. Our Saudi Arabian husband and wife team of Suleiman and Karrie Alaqel had participated in the 2019 World Mixed Doubles championship in Norway in April, (see previous blog) and didn’t finish amongst the top 16 teams who gained direct qualification to the 2020 competition. The remaining countries had the opportunity to qualify at this event in December, with the top 4 teams gaining the final places at the main 2020 Worlds.

We took different routes to get to Scotland – the Alaqels flying via Frankfurt, and Elaine on BA via Heathrow. I, however did it the difficult way. One of the disadvantages of having an Iqama (residence permit) in KSA is that we need an exit/re-entry visa to leave the Kingdom. Being semi-organised people we operate by having a multi-exit/re-entry visa, this allows the holder to leave the country as often as they like, but they have to be back in the Kingdom by midnight on the expiry date. I’m surprised we don’t refer to it as the Cinderella Card – maybe I shall, and then wait and see if the name catches on!

Elaine fell foul of the Cinderella Rule back in September, when due to circumstances beyond her control she had to stay longer in the UK and her exit/re-entry visa timed out. Had she then boarded a flight into Saudi Arabia, she could have been refused entry at the Saudi Immigration desks, locked up in a holding cell and deported on the same airline that she arrived in on. Fortunately we realised the situation, and went through the tortuous process of my sponsor (my employer) contacting the passport office in Riyadh who then issued a letter of authority which was to be taken to the Saudi embassy in London, and a new entry visa was issued, and then this was used to get her into the country, and then normality was restored. But this process took 3 weeks to complete which was frustrating and tedious.

But back to the story. I realised that my exit/re-entry visa was about to expire, and I asked my employer to issue me a new one. My flight out if Riyadh was early on the Friday morning, and my visa expired on the Thursday. They tried to issue me a new one, but the computer said No. They tried to extend the validity period if the visa – No. They tried to cancel the current one, in order to issue a fresh visa – you guessed it, No. They phoned the Jawazat helpline as one government department to another, but No again. Much of this activity occurred on the Thursday afternoon on the day before I was due to fly out and we ended up defeated. My HR Government Affairs colleague apologised and suggested that we try again on the Sunday morning (Fridays and Saturdays are the weekend in the Middle East), but I pointed out that my flight was booked, and I couldn’t reschedule without a) massive financial penalty, and b) the Saudi team would have no coach at the warm-up events and start of the tournament. So, my HR colleague offered to come into the office at midnight and log onto the computer and try to get the visa issued, but with no promise of success. The BA flight is scheduled to leave at 01.05, so Elaine and I went to the airport, checked in, and she headed through the passport controls and waited on the other side. At 00.20, my colleague phoned to advise the visa had been issued successfully and I could go. So a quick scuttle through the controls and straight into the back of the BA queue which was by now boarding. We were so relieved, there was no plan B possible! How’s that for service from an admin department? – fantastic! I hope my colleague enjoyed the tin of Quality Street chocolates that I brought back for him.

We met up with Suleiman and Karrie at Edinburgh, picked up a hire car and drove to the ‘Air BnB’ apartment that we had booked in Paisley. This was less than 20 minutes from Greenacres and close to other attractions including shopping centres. Over the next 2 days we enjoyed the ‘late night shopping’ experience in Biggar, and picked up a few Christmas presents. S&K were able to meet the gentleman at Biggar Gallery who had done work for us finalising the design of the Kingdom Curling Association logo and had printed over 70 polo shirts for our members. We also attended a friend’s 40th birthday party, which whilst not quite a ceilidh, introduced S&K to small town social life in Scotland.

The day before the competition started we had arranged a practice session to reacquaint our Saudi curlers with full-length, flat ice and the concepts of proper 6-foot draws. This was at Kinross, and my friend Mike and I played against S&K, with Mike’s wife Elaine (another one) providing some further coaching for the Saudis. This session was well worth it, and allowed us to hit the ground running when the competition on the Monday. Suleiman and Karrie are big fans of classic British humour, and were delighted with the detour we took on the road back to Paisley, with a visit to Doune Castle, the filmset for the French-knight-on-the-battlements and several other scenes in Monty Python’s ‘Holy Grail’. Doune Castle has also starred on more modern productions such as 'Outlander' and Game of Thrones'.

Pic 8jpg  Pic 9jpg

Pictures sourced from the internet

We then had 4 days of good quality curling, and with 7 countries in our pool KSA faced Turkey (0-12), Romania (4-13, S&K were 4-3 up at half time but then the tide turned), France (1-10), Ireland (1-13, playing against my niece Alison with John Wilson, and they were coached by my brother Neil – a proper family affair), Brazil (5-8, but it was 5-5 at the end of normal time, and the Brazilians won on the equivalent of penalties), and Belgium (6-7). So no wins, but some huge steps forward with milestones of being ahead for the first time in matches (Romania), their first draw (Brazil), and their closest final score (Belgium). From our group Turkey and France qualified for the finals. Full credit to Suleiman and Karrie, they don’t play on proper ice in Riyadh, and Karrie was tiring quickly being 4-months pregnant. But again they were great ambassadors for Saudi Arabia on and off the ice, playing to the spirit of the game, and made many new friends during the week.

Pic 3jpg

Four Fyfes!

On the Thursday morning we had a bye in that round, so having made prior arrangements we visited Kays of Mauchline, the manufacturers of curling stones. Jamie showed us around the factory and explained the process from the quality of stone used, the access Kay’s gets to the island of Ailsa Craig where the granite is quarried, the transport of the stones and then the cutting, milling and polishing process. This truly is a unique craft, and the growth of curling, especially in Asia means that Kays should have a healthy order book for many years to come. That was the first time I had visited Kay’s, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Pic 1jpg

Karrie and Suleiman at Kay's

Mauchline is about 30 minutes south of Greenacres, and on a good day Ailsa Craig is clearly visible sitting in the middle of the Firth of Clyde. But we didn’t have a good week weather-wise and sadly the Craig assumed the mythical status of that other Scottish legend, Brigadoon.

And so, back to Riyadh – legally.


Contacting us is straightforward

* Email:

* Call Alastair Fyfe directly on 07785 370074 (UK) or +966 503095212