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Sunday, December 24, 2006

Camel racing

Waiting for the net to go up

A camel foams at the mouthThe camels were held back by green netting. Their handlers stood tense in front of them, holding onto their ropes. Arab riders on large camels jostled by their robot counterparts on smaller camels. Then, with a crack, the netting shot up and the handlers went scampering out of the way as the camels galloped off, closely followed by their beeping and hollering owners.

The Place

Shahhaniya. Head out of Doha along Al Rayyan road. Follow the signs to Dukhan. A few kilometres after passing Al Rayya football stadium, you’ll come to a roundabout. Take the first exit, and turn left about a kilometre further on, just after the Oryx sign.

The Jockeys:

Child jockeys Until recently, children as young as four were purchased from their parents or kidnapped and sold into use as jockeys. See Mental Mayhem for an account of child jockeys being used only last year, or the Ansar Burney Trust for some disturbing pictures and stories. While this was already illegal, Qatar has now introduced severe punishments for anyone caught using child jockeys, and is going to greater lengths to enforce these laws, in contrast to some other countries in the area. They have also established an orphanage for children whose parents cannot be found. Happily, when we were at the track we saw no child jockeys, and there were plenty of police to make sure everyone was obeying the law.
One camel gets an ass whipping
Robot jockeys Replacing the children are robot jockeys. These are controlled by the camels’ owners who are following in the four wheel drive vehicles. Not only can the owners control the robots’ arms to whip the camels and pull the reins, they can also hurl abuse at the camels through speakers. The robot jockeys weigh about 26 kilos and cost about five and a half thousand dollars, which compares to about two thousand for a child.

The race

At the start of the race the camels are accompanied by older A camel is closely followed by its ownercamels and their jockeys. At a certain point they are released, and only followed by their owners. When the owners press the whip, the whip hand of the jockeys whirs round with an electric sound that can be heard clearly from the side of the race track, cracking the camel with a series of whacks on its rear end. You can get up close for the start and finish of the camel race, or watch it safely from the stadium.

Race information

Ring +974 487 2028 (mornings only) for race information.

The camel chasers - we decided not to throw our lot in with this lot
Qatar visitor YouTube videos

The start of the camel race

The end of the camel race

Also see:

Qatar camels


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