The former president of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed, endorsed camel racing and provides financial support for citizens who are caretakers of camels. Camel races take place on an annual basis, mostly during the late October to early April racing season and periodically throughout the year.
The races generally take place on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays throughout the winter season or on 5-day races held in the UAE’s larger centers. Two races are the norm, with the morning race beginning at 7:30 AM and the afternoon race at 2:30 PM.
The UAE has 15 racetracks across the country with spacious and well-kept stadiums for viewers. They are located on city outskirts, complete with rest tents, connecting roads, electricity, water, telephone lines, equipment for live television and radio broadcasts, a team of doctors, stand-by ambulances, and print transmission capabilities.
Race distances vary between 4 to 10 kilometers and may include anywhere from 15 to 70 camels or more. The lifting of the large, multi-strand barrier signifies the beginning of the race. At the racetracks, dress is casual, admission is free, and many serve light beverages. Binoculars are suggested and it is important to note that cameras are not permitted at the racetracks.
Camel racing is supported by the highest levels of UAE society, with former President Zayed owned a personal stable consisting of 14,000 camels and 9,000 workers for their upkeep. Sheikh Mohammed, the former Defense Minister of the UAE, owned 2,000 camels and maintained a reputation of his own for high performance on the racetracks.
At the Nad al Sheba racetrack, the morning races consist primarily of camels owned by sheikhs, whereas the afternoon races are open to all. Sheikhs have been known to buy camels from owners who have won the afternoon races, offering large sums of money to acquire the victorious camel.
Over the past 20 years, camel racing in the UAE gained more structure and prominence through increased interest in the sport and organization. Just in the 1990’s, 12 new tracks were built to meet the rising widespread demand for camel racing.
The sheiks of the UAE have invested large sums of money into the development of camel racing throughout the Emirates, in addition to putting cash into the buying and training of camels in order to participate themselves in the races. Their interest and dedication led to the First International Camel Conference, which drew specialists from all over with the primary goal of increasing racing camel performance.
Currently, there are approximately 14,000 active racing camels in the UAE, which require large numbers of people to maintain them and keep them in top condition. Workers to tend the camels many times come from neighboring states such as Pakistan and Oman since the sport provides both indirect and direct financial support for thousands of people due to its popularity as a national pastime. Many trainers take their camels and race in other countries, such as Qatar, which have extended racing seasons beyond the UAE season.
Camel jockeys in the past were young boys between the ages of 6 and 7, weighing approximately 20 kilograms so as not to weigh down the camel. This became an international issue in addition to the trafficking of child jockeys from different countries for the race. To fight the problem, the UAE government issued a ban on child jockeys who are less than 15 years of age and weigh less than 45 kilos. Camel jockeys must carry with them government issued identification cards, which can be acquired after passing examinations by specially appointed doctors to ensure that the child is of racing age and has not been taken from a foreign country by owners claiming to be parents.
Betting on the races is illegal in the UAE, but winners receive many different prizes, many times in the form of luxury cars. Very successful racing camels are worth millions of dollars and the most coveted prize is winning the King’s Cup in Dubai.
Camel Races in Dubai
Nad Al Sheba Camel Race Information Camel racing is taken very seriously in this neck of the woods, and Dubai’s race track fills to the brim every Thursday and Friday during their winter months.
Camels tend to be owned by sheikhs and jockeys can be very young – sometimes only six years old.
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