International camel racing another attraction in Sharm el-Sheikh

The first races at Sharm el-Sheikh coincided with preparations for the African Cup of Nations June 21-July 19, further evidence of using sporting events as strong magnets for tourists.
Sunday 05/05/2019
A camel competes at Sharm el-Sheikh International Camel Racing Contest. (Courtesy of Egyptian Camel Racing Federation)
A heritage to preserve. A camel competes at Sharm el-Sheikh International Camel Racing Contest. (Courtesy of Egyptian Camel Racing Federation)

CAIRO - Egypt made its international camel racing debut at a new track in Sharm el-Sheikh.

The contest, the first in Egypt on such a wide scale, lasted two days in late April and showcased racing camels from 16 countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Kuwait and Bahrain.

Although many camel racing events are organised in Egypt every year, generally they are all smaller in scale.

“Egypt has its own camel racing history,” said Eid al-Muzaini, the head of the Egyptian Camel Racing Federation. “Camel racing is a very important sport all throughout our country.”

Camel racing is most popular among Egypt’s Bedouin communities, including in Sinai, in southern Egypt and in the Western Desert. Hundreds of Egyptian tribes take pride in owning the fastest and finest camel breeds.

The Sharm el-Sheikh International Camel Racing Contest included 454 camels competing in various racing events. The Egyptian Howeitat tribe claimed first place.

The championship started days after the inauguration of Sharm el-Sheikh’s first camel racing track. Nearly $6 million was invested in building the 6km track, which is suitable for almost all types of camel racing competitions. The track complex covers an area of 380 hectares.

The track is the first in a series of camel racing facilities planned across Egypt with the aim of entering the international camel racing scene, Muzaini said.

In trying to claim a spot on the camel racing map, Egypt borrowed from Arab Gulf states, notably the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, that have established camel racing records. With a focus on boosting tourism, Egyptian officials hope camel racing will attract enthusiasts from across the world.

The first races at Sharm el-Sheikh coincided with preparations for the African Cup of Nations June 21-July 19, further evidence of using sporting events as strong magnets for tourists.

South Sinai Governor Khaled Fouda said the camel races grabbed the attention of camel lovers from around the Arab world.

“Our country has a strong camel racing heritage that we want to preserve,” Fouda said at the opening of the racing contest April 25.

This heritage is especially deeply rooted in Sinai where thousands of tribesmen cherish camel racing and breeding. Fouda described the opening of the track in Sharm el-Sheikh as a “dream come true” for tribesmen in his province.

He said he expected the track and the official attention paid to camel racing as a sport to contribute to socio-economic stability in Sinai. This, Fouda said, would encourage local camel breeders to commit to the production of the finest camel breeds.

“This will, of course, stimulate the economy in Sinai and bring Egypt closer to excellence when it comes to camel racing,” he said.

Excellence, specialists said, is not a far-fetched dream for a country with strong camel racing traditions, some of the world’s finest camel breeds and some of the most skilled racers. Last August and September, Egyptian tribes won first and second places at the Crown Prince Camel Racing Festival in Saudi Arabia.

“This shows that we can easily compete with a little extra effort,” said Sheikh Ibrahim Salim, a Sinai chieftain and owner of a racing camel. “Most of the tribes in our country have their own very talented racers.”

Advanced techniques were applied during the Sharm el-Sheikh races to ensure transparency and fairness. Camels entered in the races were examined to make certain that they hadn’t received performance-enhancing drugs. Electronic chips were fixed to the legs of camels in the contest to calculate distances run and speed.

“These measures prove that our ability to organise such important sports events is quite significant,” Muzaini said. “This is why I expect our country to become the camel racing hub of the Arab world in a matter of a few years.”

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