Traditional sport is a symbol of pride
Khalid Al Qatani
Camels were once called "Ships of the Desert" because they were the only means for crossing the vast hot lands. They also provided milk for drinking, meat for eating and hides for making clothes and tools.
But to an Emirati, a camel is more than that. A camel is a companion, and many Emiratis own and raise camels for racing.
As my family is part of the Emirati society working to preserve our heritage, we own many camels. We enter our camels in races and in beauty pageants and have won both many times. I am very much connected with camels and have a lot of experience in raising them and taking care of them.
So that races can start as soon as the sun is up and finish before it gets too hot in the day, we have to be at the racetrack very early to register. There are dozens of owners and trainers who must decide what the distance for each race will be. The races are usually five or six kilometres, but can be more.
There are about 10 camels per race and they are lined up at the starting block. This is a very exciting time as the camels are eager to get going. The owners line up in their SUV's alongside and as soon as the camels take off, so do they, operating their robot jockey's whip by remote control.
Many people my age or even younger are very interested in this sport. Raising camels builds character in the young men who participate. And with camels, your effort is always rewarded.
Many people, especially Westerners who are not used to seeing camels, may wonder why we pay so much attention to camels and provide such kind treatment for them. They don't know what those animals gave to our fathers and ancestors. We must pay back what we owe.
If any expatriate would like to know more about camels, they can attend a race at one of the race tracks in the UAE. The major racing tracks are Al Wathba in Abu Dhabi and Al Marmooq in Dubai. Two of the minor racing tracks are Sweihan and Malaget. The racing season is from September until the end of April. Summer is a rest time for the camels after a season of hard training and long competitions.
Ali Hamood Al Kalbani
One of the most exciting things about watching a camel race is seeing the camels run down the track while their owners race alongside in their cars, spurring their animals along with their robot jockeys.
Camel racing is among the most famous traditional sports in the Gulf area, and it is essential to the history of the region. Camels are a symbol of pride among the participants and these races represent fame and strength among the Arabian tribes.
My family has been raising camels on our farm for generations, and we like to attend the races as often as we can. Camel racing is closely related to the heritage of the UAE and it reflects the Bedouin lifestyle. Traditionally, these races were held on social occasions such as wedding parties, celebrations and when a sheikh visited a tribe or a Bedouin village.
Arabs love camel racing because it is part of our culture. But expatriates can enjoy camel racing, too. The best time to attend is between October and March when the weather is temperate. Races are often held in the mornings on weekends.
Khalifi Ali Al Qawati
Every nation has culture and customs that are preserved over the years and passed from one generation to another. The current generation of Emiratis embraces these traditions, and one of these is camel racing.
Camel racing has also been a traditional sport enjoyed by almost all Emiratis and also by people visiting the country.
As an Emirati, I am proud of my country's customs. My family has a ranch where camels are raised and some are trained for racing. Under the leadership of Sheikh Khalifa (the President of the UAE), the country is keen on preserving and supporting the tradition of camel racing. The government prepares special programmes and provides generous prizes for the racing winners every year.
Recently, expatriates have taken an interest in camel racing because they can see how interesting it is and how important it is to the Emiratis. They have started to attend the camel races and enjoy taking photos to remember their experiences.
In their own countries, many expatriates enjoy horse racing so when they come to the UAE they can see the similarities between the types of racing. Both horse and camel racing are very fast races which can be thrilling for the fans to watch.
Horse racing is popular worldwide, but camel racing is unique to the Middle East. For Emiratis, camel racing is a link to our past that we can still enjoy today.
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Published: November 6, 2012 04:00 AM