While the camel has long been known as the “ ship of the desert” for its ability to withstand the harsh conditions and the punishing heat and thirst that they bring, it is also renowned in Arab history for its legacy as a racing animal.
Camel racing competitions have been held across Oman for centuries and continue to be an integral part of the country’s tradition and social fabric to this day.
“This is a popular sport where camels compete at speeds of up to 64 kilometres per hour on tracks specially built for this kind of race. Races take place regularly,” said the Ministry of Tourism. “Camels, have played a vital role in the region over thousands of years, impacting all aspects of daily desert life. Besides being a means of travel, food and shelter, camels are also used for entertaining, celebrating and competing in festivals and special events.”
“The sport is greatly similar to horse racing,” added the ministry. “Camel racing is an authentic Arab sport, famous especially among the Arabian Peninsula Arabs. Camel racing has evolved into an official and professional race that includes racetracks, specialised farms for raising camels and running intensive training programmes, as well as using new technologies.”
In Oman, a National Camel Race Festival is held every year, traditionally during the cooler months from September to March. It is organised by the Royal Camel Corps and the Ministry of Tourism, in collaboration with the Ministry of Sports Affairs and the Oman Camel Racing Federation.
Camel races are quite the spectacle, and often draw crowds from all over the Sultanate. The sight of a jockey and his mount working as one towards a finishing line that seems at the same time so close, yet so far, provides an indescribable thrill and an almost mystical sense of magic that is just not possible to replicate in the modern world.
“Camel racing is the sport of running camels at speed, with a rider astride, over a predetermined course,” says the Encyclopaedia Britannica. “The sport is generally limited to running the dromedary –whose name is derived from the Greek “dromad”, a runner, rather than the Bactrian camel.”
“On the Arabian Peninsula, the native habitat of the dromedary, it can be traced to at least the 7th century CE,” added the encyclopaedia. “Although traditionally overshadowed by horse racing in that region—the peninsula is home to the Arabian horse—the racing of camels was long a folk sport practiced by the local population at social gatherings and festivals.”