UAE camel racing to resume following a five-month hiatus

The United Arab Emirates announced the resumption of camel racing, coupled with precautionary guidelines, which is among the most popular sports in the Gulf with prizes sometimes reaching millions of dollars.

al-monitor Jockeys compete in a camel race during the Sultan Bin Zayed Heritage Festival in Sweihan, United Arab Emirates, Feb. 3, 2018. Photo by REUTERS/Christopher Pike.

Jun 23, 2020

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced in May the resumption of camel racing in July after the coronavirus crisis suspended the sport of millionaires. 

Camel racing has been part of the UAE’s heritage for many decades with camels being regarded as companions and prized by the Bedouins. “Owning a camel depends on the breed, but it can cost up to $200,000 a year to run a camel farm with about four camels. Again it depends on the kind of camels — some cost more than others,” Abdullah al-Falasi, director of marketing and media partnerships and events for the Dubai Camel Racing Club, told Al-Monitor by phone.

The season is usually from September to April, but it was cut short this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. The traditional races will resume at Dubai’s Marmoum racetrack following the five-month suspension.

Falasi noted, “Dubai will start at the end of August, but Abu Dhabi will have a race in July.”

“Camel racing is important because this is a traditional sport of the UAE and the surrounding Gulf countries. It’s the No. 1 traditional sport,” Falasi added. “The races are broadcast live on Dubai Racing Channel on Dubai TV. Roughly 20 to 80 camels can participate per race.”

To ensure the events are safe, the UAE Camel Racing Federation issued new guidelines for future races.

According to the federation and the National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority, new regulations must be adhered to, including wearing face masks and gloves, while social distancing should be maintained by individuals and employees.

“Before COVID-19 around 1,000 to 1,500 people attended the races per week. But those numbers will go down as visitors are not allowed yet. Now the rules have changed for those following the races and those who have a camel in the race. As per the rules, only three people per car are allowed access if they have a camel participating in the race. There is no standing area for people to socialize. Everyone has to be in their cars and they must exit the racetrack [immediately after the race]” Falasi noted.

The last major camel race took place in Abu Dhabi on March 21, five days before the country introduced one of the most stringent domestic travel restrictions to curb the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.

“We just don’t know what to expect in terms of people and numbers. We hope everything will get back to normal, but we are following the government rules, and we don’t know what will happen. But I think everyone will get used to the new rules,” Falasi said.

Camel racing is a very popular sport across the Gulf. While many Emirati owners do not rely on the races for their livelihoods, prize money can sometimes reach millions of dollars in luxury car prizes, and sometimes in the top festivals prize money can reach up to millions of dollars in cash.

Races normally take place on the weekends with additional races on public holidays. Entrance to the races is free of charge.

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