Camel racing in Qatar expensive but popular sport

An expensive racing camel can cost as much as a luxury car. [File/Al-Shorfa]

An expensive racing camel can cost as much as a luxury car. [File/Al-Shorfa]

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Camel racing in Qatar boasts a long tradition, once a simple form of entertainment has now evolved into a fiercely competitive and expensive sport.

Today camel racing is an expensive hobby that few can afford because some breeds cost more than the most luxurious cars in the world, with prices reaching as high as one million Qatari riyals ($360,000).

"Camel racing is a sport we inherited from our ancestors, and it appeals to young people in the Gulf in general and Qatar in particular," said Mansour al-Mohannadi, the owner of camel named "al-Abka".

"Every year, several camel races are held in Qatar and other Gulf countries. The races attract enthusiastic crowds of dignitaries, citizens, and residents. Participants compete for valuable prizes. The most valuable prize is the Golden Sword awarded at the end of the year at the Al-Shahaniya track in Doha," he told Al-Shorfa.

Tala al-Nehma, owner of a camel breeding farm, said many farm owners spend heavily on camel breeding, adding that the Qatari government provides many benefits to support farm owners, including water and veterinary services.

He discussed other major expenses that farm owners must shoulder.

"In order to become a camel breeder, you need a large tract of land that is suitable for breeding and be able to cover feed costs because the price of camel feed has increased from five riyals ($1.30) to 10 riyals per half kilogram," he said.

"There is also the cost of (artificial) insemination for some breeds of camels, which could be very high, especially if it is done outside the country."

Al-Mohannadi paid 110,000 riyals ($30,000) to fly al-Abka from Qatar to Oman to have it artificially inseminated. He said the trip was a small price to pay considering the potential returns he could earn from a purebred camel.

Al-Nehma said camel trading is conducted throughout the Middle East and the Gulf in particular. There are good breeds in Iraq, Syria and parts of North Africa, which are usually cheaper than Gulf camels, he said.

Camel racing season kicked off in early November

The first set of camel races began in Qatar earlier this month, the launching point for a racing season that continues through February and features local and Gulf region tournaments.

Al-Shahaniya camel racing track, north of Doha, holds local tournaments every Friday from November through February. Distances vary by tournament, but each race rarely exceeds five kilometres.

Robot jockeys replaced child jockeys after the Council of Ministers issued a decree in 2004 that prohibited the use of child jockeys because of safety risks.

Camel races in Qatar attract wide media attention. Khalid Mohamed Makhlouf, an Egyptian sports media analyst who follows camel racing, said they "reflect the disposition of [Qatari and Gulf] society, which still values camel racing."

"The tournaments have become a Qatari hallmark and draw crowds from outside the country, especially tourists who arrive during the tournament season. The races are now global in every sense of the word."