Turkey building towards big things in international curling

  • Turkey women in action in the Braehead Curling Club Photo: © WCF / Graham Peters

In the grand scheme of things, six years is not a long time.

Six years among centuries of sporting history is minuscule, yet in that time, Turkey have gone from beginners to solid competitors in international curling.

To give you an idea of where Turkey were as a curling nation, let’s go back to 2010: a time where Canada hosted the Olympic Winter Games and Toy Story 3 was out in the cinemas, making us all cry like children.

2010 was the year that the Turks made their Le Gruyère AOP European Curling Championships debut in both male and female sections. The women would find quick success in the C-Division, finishing first in the round robin, before losing gold to Ireland, but were promoted to the B-Division regardless. They would go straight back down, but for a first year, it was very respectable. The men struggled on their debut. They finished bottom of the C-Division with only one win.

But things only got better. In 2011, the men’s team made the C-Division play-offs, narrowly missing promotion, while the women were the same. In 2012, things went very well for both teams. The men were second in the C-Division and ultimately were promoted to B where they would stay. The women went one better, winning the C-Division before narrowly missing out on the B-Division play-offs which would have taken them to the top flight. The next three years saw three tie-breaker places for the women and one for the men, consolidating their positions in the B-Division, but this year things are going one step better again.

The men were on a five game unbeaten streak, but a couple of slip ups led to them losing a tie-break against Slovenia. Nevertheless, the roaring start to their campaign shows what they are capable of next year. The women made the play-offs, beating Estonia in the semi-finals, ensuring promotion to the A-Division next year. The Le Gruyère AOP European Curling Championships 2017 will be held in St Gallen, Switzerland (17-25 November).

So, where did this incredible story start? In 2009, Turkey built their first curling rink, in preparation for hosting the Winter Universiade (a.k.a. the Winter Student Games) in 2011 in the eastern city of Erzurum. From there, the country decided to build their national team to compete in curling as hosts. National team coach, Fatih Agduman, has coached the team for the past five years and knows that hosting these games, was the birth of the sport in his country.

“We were going to host the Games, but someone said to us that you will have curling, but you don’t have the facilities, so we built the facilities. So, this is the only reason why we started curling,” said Fatih.

Once Turkey started curling, there was a time of transition with coaches, before landing Scottish coach Brian Gray. Soon Fatih joined him at the national side where he assisted him.

“I worked with him for about three or four months until the university Olympic Games. He left and I kept working for them,” he said, “Later, we had the chance to work with Daniel Rafael, who now coaches the Russian women’s team, both taught us how to curl ourselves and how to coach the teams. I cannot stress how much help we got from Brian and Daniel.”

Fatih, who does not earn a wage as the national coach, decided to move from his home in Istanbul to learn the sport and has not looked back, “I was born in Istanbul, I was brought up in Istanbul and just for curling I moved to Erzurum and for five years I’ve been living here. I also got married last year to a woman from here so my whole life has changed.”

When he’s not teaching the country’s finest curlers, Fatih is a university lecturer in the Sports Department of Ataturk University in the city. Now, he has a mandatory class in his programme for his students to learn how to play curling, “Now we are teaching the students how to play curling which is good so I think the game’s going to improve faster.”

Fatih admits that the real problem that Turkish curling has, is a lack of people actively playing, but is optimistic about the future.

“We have about 500 people playing curling in Turkey. It’s not that bad, but it’s not very good,” he said, “The main problem for Turkish curling is it started in Erzurum only. We don’t have a large pool for the girls. For the boys we’re OK. We have like three tough teams who could play here.”

“The Sports Minister for Turkey was here in Glasgow for a World Anti-Doping Agency meeting and he came here and spoke to us. It was the first time I have seen a Sports Minister of Turkey and he saw the game against Latvia.

“Now he says at least ten Curling Rinks will be built in Turkey in places like Istanbul, Ankara and Erzurum. So it’s going to be everywhere. We have nearly a million people living in the Erzurum area, but Istanbul has like 20 million people and everyone will come there. So, hopefully in five-to-ten years we will see 100,000 people playing curling in Turkey.”

But that’s not all that’s changing for the team they recently became a recognised curling federation. Before March, their national side were under the umbrella of Turkish Ice Skating Federation. Now, they won’t have to skate around issues and will allow them to set their own budgets, giving them more power to make decisions. One of the main issues on the agenda is bringing in young people.

“It’s really hard for us and to me curling is all about the experience. You have to be experienced to play curling well,” said Fatih, “We have some tough times, but as I said before, Brian and Daniel helped us so much, so they helped coaches like me by telling us how to educate, how to tell the people what to do and help us engage with young people.”

But for now, Fatih and his team will look to become a force to be reckoned with in Europe in years to come.

“Before we came I knew that my team could do good things and now we are sticking to the plan. Next year we are going to push for Olympic qualification and hopefully we can also have a chance of going to Worlds.

“Then we are going to make a plan because the curling federation is only around five-or-six months old, so now they are working on it. But first they need to get Curling Rinks and spread curling and then we’ll sit and make short-term, mid-term and long-term plans and then we’ll see,” he said.

If anything goes on their progress so far, Turkey could be a dark horse in the big leagues in years to come. PyeongChang may be a pipedream and the team know that, but next Olympics is their real long-term goal as Fatih calmly says, “But sure, 2022, Beijing.”

The top two finishers in the B-Division qualify for the Le Gruyère AOP European Curling Championships 2017 to be held in St Gallen, Switzerland (17-25 November), in both the men’s and the women’s events. Also, the winners, play the eighth ranked teams in the A-Division, in a World Challenge Series, of three games, for places at the World Women’s Curling Championships 2017 in Beijing, China and the Ford World Men’s Curling Championships 2017 in Edmonton, Canada.

Tickets for the Le Gruyère AOP European Curling Championships 2016, taking place in Renfrewshire, Scotland, between 19-26 November 2016, are on sale from, www.ticketmaster.co.uk/artist/2227627

by Michael Houston, WCF feature writer