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

Qatar's Hanan Al Boinin throws a stone during a round-robin Curling game against Japan at the Asian Winter Games in Sapporo, northern Japan, Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)

For members of Qatar women's curling team, just about everything is a new experience

SAPPORO, Japan — For members of 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 the sport? 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's a huge challenge when you live in a desert climate. The Qatari women can only train one day a week on ice that is not quite up to international standards.

It's a tough road ahead. Qatar lost 17-1 to Japan on Saturday 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 that the sport provides.

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.

The Qatari women's team is coached by Hungarian Lajos Belleli, who is a seven-time Hungarian national 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 in the 2016 world championships.

"Curling is a sport that traditionally has only been played in countries that have winter sports," said Kate Caithness, president of the World Curling Federation. "But we can play the sport anywhere and want to make it a truly global sport."

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