By Alistair McMurran

The Czech Republic curling team would not be competing at the New Zealand Winter Games if their country had still been a communist state.

Curling became a serious sport in the country only after the collapse of the Iron Curtain in Europe and was first played in the Czech Republic in 1990.

It is still a minor sport in the country, with only 450 curlers.

Ice hockey, by contrast, has 500,000.

There is only one curling rink in Prague and the 20 curling clubs all play at the same venue.

Five members of the Aritna Praha club, of Prague, will represent the Czech Republic at the New Zealand Winter Games at Naseby next week.

They are lawyer Zdenek Krampera (49), economics student Jiri Candra (23), finance director Jan Letal (47), sports manager Leos Fiala (46) and economist Karel Kubeska (53).

“We are happy to be in New Zealand to represent our country but we are realists and don’t expect to win,” Candra told the Otago Daily Times.

The Czech Republic team has not yet qualified for the Winter Olympics.

“Our men’s and women’s teams rank from 12 to 15 in the world, but our junior girls are starting to make their mark,” Candra said.

Candra is coach of that team, which finished seventh at the world junior championships this year.

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