While 2016 is featuring the Summer Olympic Games, we decided to have a chat with Theodore Casser of Israel Curling – a rather unique team for the Middle East – about the growth of the sport in Israel and what lies ahead.
1. Curling in Israel? How did that come to be?
I myself found out about the Israeli Curling Federation through an article in Tablet, which mentioned that they were looking for Jewish North American players interested in representing Israel on the international stage. At the time, I’d been only looking really for a pin for my collection (curlers love pins), and ended up having a nice back-and-forth conversation with the director of development for the federation. After applying to be part of the team, and not making the cut, I was approached to represent Israel at the Winter World Masters Games in Québec in 2015 (for athletes who are 35+). We did respectably there, and I was invited a few months later to the training camp and combine for team selection a few months later. While I’ve not been selected for a squad to go to a continental or world championship yet, there’s always next season.
2. What are some challenges about adapting this sport in this country?
I think the biggest challenge, really, is publicity. Most people, both inside and outside Israel, don’t know that the Israeli Curling Federation exists, or where to try the sport for themselves. In Israel, there’s also the aspect of winter sports being more foreign, a lack of availability of facilities, and a lack of funding from the Ministry of Sport and Culture. The majority of the players for the national teams train, live and play in cities across North America where there’s more opportunity to improve, and don’t have a lot of opportunity to play together on a regular basis.
I’m blessed that the club I belong to normally – the Potomac Curling Club, outside of Washington, DC – is also home to two of the young men who’ve played on the teams that went to the European Championships over the last two seasons, so we do have some opportunity to play with and against one another.
3. What sort of reaction have you experienced with the Israel curling team?
Most of the time, I find that people are bemused that Israel even has a curling team, and tend to make comments akin to when they’re discussing the Jamaican bobsled team. I can get it, mind you – the idea of what’s seen as a “desert country” fielding athletes at the world-championships level for a winter sport is a little hard to swallow as anything other than a lark. As the various teams continue to perform well at competition, though, I think that the response will tend to be less surprised and more positive.
4. What are the plans for the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics?
The problem with the 2018 games is qualifying for them – men’s and women’s curling are limited to 10 teams, and mixed doubles is limited to 8, and making that pool is based on performance at the world championships. (There are 51 nations competing for those spots.) Realistically, the program is looking ahead to trying to qualify for 2022 or beyond.
5. How do you envision the future of curling and winter sports in Israel?
The future for curling, and winter sports in general, is getting brighter in Israel. I think that if we give it a few years, it’ll be less of a “novelty”, especially now that the men’s team has performed well two years running at the European championships. The men’s team won the silver medal in the C division in 2014, and finished fourth in the B division in 2015, nearly vying for a promotion to the A division with a shot at a trip to the world championships. The mixed team competed in their first world championships in the fall of 2015 as well, which just broadens the exposure. The federation also fields a wheelchair team, which participated in the World Wheelchair-B Championships this season.
Add to that the fact that there are three men competing in Skeleton for Israel this season, that Israel’s consistently sent figure skaters to the Olympics… it’s slow, but it’s growing. In a big part, the future of curling and all winter sports in Israel is going to be based on how much publicity they can get, and the team certainly has been doing what it can to generate that notice.
6. Where can we follow / learn more about you and your team?
The team and Federation have very good presences on Facebook and Twitter.
Facebook: Israel Curling – https://www.facebook.com/curlingisrael/
Team Israel – Curling – https://www.facebook.com/TeamIsraelCurling/
Twitter: Israel Curling (@IsraelCurling)
Website: Israel Curling Federation – http://curling.co.il
And as for me, I can be found on Twitter as @PeelOfShame.