As an integral part of Omani heritage, the country is seeing a growing interest in the purebred Arabian camels for racing purposes with camel acquisition and breeding also expanding in different communities as it has proven to be reliable and financially rewarding means of livelihood.
“There are approximately 25,000 camels officially registered in the Oman Camel Racing Federation. This number, in reality, is more as a large number are not registered particularly those camels within the Al Mafarid and Hajjaij group [the name of camels varies according to their age group]” shared Salim al Hashmi said, Member of the Board of The Omani Camel Racing Federation and Chairman of The Committee for Studies, Research and Digital Data.
Salim said that almost every governorate organise their own camel races but North Al Sharqiyah has been identified as the top governorate that handles the most number of camel races annually. The governorate is also home to the most trainers, locally called “Al Mudhamarin’, who help in rehabilitating camels ensuring that they are safe for competition.
“These camels coaches, just like in other sports, hold the secrets to a camel’s victory. Camels are trained in a closed camp, which is held next to each race track as well as a permanent camp, a place for camel breeding locally called “Ezbba”,” Salim said.
Abdullah al Darei, who raises his own camels in Adam said that “Our constant presence on the “Ezbba” makes us permanently close to these camels. This relationship between trainers, coaches and the camels are important and usually requires patience and skill from camel breeders and trainers.”
“Winning does not happen overnight. For a camel to win an event, we spend months rehabilitating and preparing the camels,” Abdullah added.
Due to its popularity, the country currently has invested in very efficient and high-level racing facilities which include the Al Bashayer and Al Fulaij racetracks.
“There are about 45 high-level racetracks in Oman with different shapes, facilities and specifications. We usually have oval, circular or straight tracks and these tracks are further divided into different distances which ranges between 8 and 10 km,” he added.
To ensure a camel’s ability to race, its lineage is usually traced.
“There are meticulous records about a race camel’s breed. Both mother and father are also usually put on a lens and their performances are tracked especially their winnings. Currently, even Oman looks into international laboratories to determine the breeds of camels, Salim al Hashmi said.
From its lineage, racing camels are also quality reviewed for their thinness of the body, agility, running speed, endurance and response to training. While camels for breeding usually do not require a lot, camels that are meant for racing are given supplements to enhance their performance. For Instance, Abdullah said that original honey, Omani ghee and some sports medicine are the go-to for many breeders and coaches.
“Camel race events bring different communities in one place. From urban dwellers to Bedouins across all ages, a large number of people enjoy participating,” said Ali al Busaidy, an avid attendee of the races.
Camel races are also the best place for people to be reminded of some of their important traditions.
For instance, Ali pointed out that in Oman, it is customary to honour the winning camel. “Camels are given a ceremonial bath by matriarchs of the families or other women in the community. Saffron is usually mixed with some of the best smells and then sprinkled on the camel’s back as tribute and appreciation to their momentous accomplishment,” Ali said.
The financial gains in this endeavour are not just on the breeders and racers side but also trickle down to the rest of the community particularly to those who provide nutritional food and supplements to camel owners.
Because of the national importance of these races, the Omani Camel Racing Federation has been the official institution that looks after the integrity of the races but also enacts the laws to regulate the sport.
Overall, the sport has been divided into different types namely Muzaiana, muhlaba, Ardah and the usual camel race.
“The season for camel racing is usually between September to April when the temperature and weather are appropriate,” Salim said.
Camel racing festivals usually have big season-ender matches which include His Majesty’s Cup. These final races usually give out big prizes.