Camel racing in Qatar, a national heritage

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While Qatar is hosting the Football World Cup, on the Al-Shahaniya track, 40 kilometers east of the capital Doha, we are in love with camel races, a national sport, as in all countries. of the Gulf.

From our special envoy to Qatar,

« Camels are part of our culture “, immediately announces a young Qatari, who wears the thobe, this long white and straight poplin shirt, perfectly ironed, which remains surprisingly immaculate in all circumstances. Camels have long been used to move around the large desert expanses of the Arabian Peninsula.

Remote-controlled mechanical jockeys

Here we are 40 kilometers east of the capital Doha, on the track of Al-Shahaniya, while the wind blows and the sand stings the eyes. Next to us, a giant screen broadcasts the event. Some Argentinian tourists are ecstatic in front of the spectacle, sport number 1 here.

Preparation of robots that act as jockeys. © Farid Achache

Until the beginning of the 21st century, children from the Indian subcontinent rode camels. Because of the fatal accidents, the Gulf countries gave in to international pressure and banned the practice in 2004. Like those in horse racing in Europe, camel jockeys had to be small and light. Now, remote-controlled mechanical jockeys are used.

The starting gate of the “Camel Racing Track” rises and the camelids set off. In their cars, on the parallel road, the trainers remotely operate the robots’ mechanical whip, which prods the animal, and encourages it by shouting into a walkie-talkie.

For each race, around forty 4x4s follow the pack. It almost feels like being in the caravan of the Tour de France. “ This sport must be known in Europe, I know that you have horse racing on your side “, slips a Qatari journalist, ready to take the antenna.

You can follow the race on a parallel road.
You can follow the race on a parallel road. © Farid Achache

In Qatar, betting is prohibited, and competitors compete for high-value prizes, usually awarded by the ruling family that sponsors the traditional sport. That day, out of the 22 races on the program, each winner pocketed the equivalent of 250,000 euros.

Faithful to Bedouin traditions, the inhabitants of Qatar, like other Gulf countries, are passionate about breeding these one-humped camelids, which even have swimming pools to relieve their joints. And advanced technologies are used to improve the camel breed.

Professional racing dates back to 1972 in Qatar

In the neighboring farms, everything is done to ensure that the animals are in the best conditions. In Qatar, camels also have their “palace”. It must be said that the price of an “Arabian camel” can reach astronomical sums, sometimes close to a million euros.

Professional camel racing started in 1972 in Qatar and the season usually lasts from September to March. Camels usually start racing around the age of two, over a distance of four kilometers, and for older animals, up to eight kilometers.

The most famous race here is called “Sheikh Tamim’s Sword”, named after the Emir. You can walk away with a golden weapon, a very large check and prizes such as luxury cars that easily exceed 100,000 euros.


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