With less than a year to go until the 2022 World Cup, the final stages of one of the world’s most popular sporting competitions will take place in Qatar, from 21 November to 18 December. For the Middle East, this is certainly one of the most significant sporting events ever, also because of the peculiar period in which they will take place: for the first time in history, in fact, the World Cup will not be held during the summer months, but in the middle of winter, due to the very high temperatures that characterise the summers in those latitudes.
In spite of the great expectations for this event, in Qatar the attention of the locals is tenaciously focused on another sport, of a totally different nature from football: we are talking about camel races, a very ancient sporting event that for some years now, in Qatar, can also count on the support of a television channel completely dedicated to these races, in order to satisfy the curiosity of all fans. Even the deputy prime minister himself will attend the ZGP as stated in Sharjah24.
Until a few years ago, the jockeys included many children, the youngest of whom were only four years old. But after a wave of international controversy, the real jockeys have been replaced by lightweight, 25 kg robots that can be remotely controlled. During the race, the camel’s owners can use the robot’s technology to spur the animals on and try to encourage them, reaching them through a microphone installed on the latest generation of jockeys, and even following their race with their expensive cars as shown in our article at OceanUp. Each robot is equipped with GPS, as well as advanced systems to monitor the camel’s speed, position and even heart rate through sensors installed in the metal body. The races (in which almost exclusively female camels take part, due to the obvious grumpiness of the males) take place over 6 to 10 km, and are also organised according to the size and age of the camels taking part. Camel races are usually held between October and April.
The passion for camel racing is common to all Gulf countries and is a cultural heritage for millions of people. Among the ancient peoples of the Middle East, camel races were also held during weddings and ceremonies and were an integral part of the local culture of many Arabian nations. In a country like the United Arab Emirates, where the tradition of camel racing has been severely overshadowed by economic growth in recent decades (fuelled by oil), the authorities have taken it upon themselves to safeguard this cultural heritage by insisting on the sporting aspect of camel racing and encouraging its growth through the organisation of various events.
Nowadays, camel racing is officially recognised as an international sport, attracting enthusiasts from all over the world. In the United Arab Emirates alone, a dozen facilities have been built specifically for camel racing, and these are set to grow.
A historic tradition
In Arab countries, there are breeding centres for racing camels, where training of the young animals starts at a very early age, when they are just over six months old. By the age of three, the camel is ready to take part in official racing events. Usually, race days are divided into two sessions: the first takes place from 7 to 9 am, while the second takes place in the afternoon. In total, between 15 and 60 camels take part in this kind of race (which lasts about 6 or 7 minutes), carefully selected according to their racing experience.
Camel racing is far from being an exclusively male sport, as demonstrated by the composition of the podium at the third edition of the ‘Camel Trek Marathon for Expats’, a competition organised in the United Arab Emirates by the Hamdan Bin Mohammed Heritage Center (HHC), which took place a few days ago. The first three places were won by three women, who managed to take the top positions at the expense of many male colleagues. The competition, organised to promote the cultural heritage of the Emirati nation, attracted 21 expatriates from 16 countries around the world. The winner was China’s Xiaozhe Huo, while second and third places were taken by Estonia’s Laura Ezzat and Germany’s Gesa Eggeling respectively. In addition to the top three, athletes from the USA, Algeria, India, South Korea, the Czech Republic, Saudi Arabia, Poland, Italy, France, Iran, the Philippines, Spain and Belgium also took part in the competition.
The growing popularity of the sport, in this respect, can certainly contribute to the global spread of the culture of a sport based solely on the passion for competition and love of animals, without any differentiation of athletes according to their gender. The expatriate camel race was held in conjunction with the Arabian Camel Festival, a major event organised under the patronage of Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Executive Council at Dubai Camel Racing Club’s Al Marmoom. The growth of the sport in the years to come will undoubtedly provide an excellent opportunity to promote the values of a sporting activity linked to the traditions of a particular land, in which men and women from all over the world can compete, symbolising global competition and friendship between nations in the name of sport.
In recent years, interest in camel racing has extended to the world of betting. Arabian players can now place their bets on camel races, which are becoming increasingly popular in North Africa and the Middle East, on sports betting platforms. In this respect, online sports betting platforms like ArabianBetting have made efforts to facilitate betting on the final results, giving all players the opportunity to place bets on all races, which are becoming more and more numerous.
The fascination of this competition, which has its roots in the cultural and historical fabric of the countries of the Middle East, is destined to grow more and more, also due to the inclusion of technological devices such as robot jockeys, which favour the meeting between innovation and the richness of a millenary tradition that will never disappear.