When someone says ‘racing’, what do you think of? Powerful big horses powering down a track? Each way bets and ladies’ days? Maybe it’s fibreglass cars speeding around Monaco and Champagne corks popping. Whatever the image you have in your head, chances are it’s not one of a gang of gangly sand brown camels stumbling down a dusty road with little kids on their backs. It would be if you were from an Arabic country, though…
You may assume that camel racing comes from someone just taking the success seen in horse racing and substituting horses with camels. And technically, you’re right. But it’s not something which has just been copied recently – racing camels has been a sport since the 7th Century. The ‘sport of Sheikhs’ has, over the years, seen the ‘ships of the desert’ reach some surprisingly high speeds. The current record standing at 64kmph. Now that’s a quick camel!
It might sound daft, but it’s big business. Obviously, the Middle East is cash (and of course, oil) rich, so there’s no shortage in money in the sport. For instance, breeding racing camel female sold for more than £1.6m in 2010… Gambling is forbidden in the Islamic faith however, so there’s no money staked on the races. Though in the more Westernised Dubai and Abu Dhabi (where many ‘rules’ – such as alcohol – are relaxed), bets are sometimes allowed from tourists. The season usually runs from October until April, to coincide with the Winter season. You wouldn’t get much racing out of camels outside in the Summer. Or anyone out to watch it. Believe us, it gets pretty hot over there in August!
It’s not a sport without its scandals though. The biggest controversy in camel racing comes from the jockeys. Instead of short men, many unscrupulous racing camel owners illegally traffic in children from poor neighbouring countries. Kidnapped kids from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Pakistan, and Sudan are often seriously hurt when they fall off too. Most countries have now banned under-15s from getting between the humps, but the issue is still a concern in dodgier areas and in illegal racing. Most countries now use young adults, smaller people or, as in the case of future World Cup hosts Qatar, robotic jockeys. Seriously. Little robots on the back of camels. How mad is that…?!
It’s recently been discovered that electric whips are been used in some quarters. Stun guns surreptitiously held by riders or remote control stunners are being used to gee the camels up to run faster. Again, this has been almost stamped out by racing officials, but can still be found in more rural areas.
Are you keen on the idea of watching some of this? Or does the idea of camel racing give you the hump? Please let us know your thoughts…Author's Google+ Page