Saudi Arabia’s Empty Quarter sees camel-racing revival


JEDDAH: In Saudi Arabia’s southernmost point, there is renewed fervor in the otherwise docile town of Sharurah, Najran province.

Camel racing in the region’s famous Empty Quarter is a renowned legacy among the area’s ancient tribes, which were said to have heavily relied on camels in times of war.

Camel racing on these plains dates as far back as 2000 BC, according to historians. Now, thousands of years later, the sport has returned.

Al-Omairi Al-Manhali, a tribal member in the Empty Quarter, said the sport has made a decisive comeback thanks to the passion of long-time residents and the natural beauty of the area, which now hosts big races and the world’s most impressive camels.

Abdul Aziz Al-Saaiari, a camel owner who has taken part in many races, said the country is going through a renaissance in tourism and entertainment thanks to a renewed interest in heritage and the region’s authenticity.

“On the golden desert plains of the Empty Quarter, tribes have been working hard to cultivate modernized sports programs that can attract international investors to this awe-inspiring scene of natural beauty,” he said.

Suleiman Massaad, a camel owner who takes a special interest in the races, said that what makes them stand out is the support of municipal authorities, Najran’s horse council and the country’s camel federation.

“Various authorities have helped us promote sports-related projects and garner investment in an area that would attract many tourists,” he said. “Despite the simplicity of the race, the area’s tribes have proven their capability at attracting the world’s attention.”

Camels are renowned for their stamina. Some can run at up to 65 km per hour (kph) in short bursts, and sustain speeds of up to 40 kph.

The Saudi government has regularly launched initiatives since 1974 to introduce these races to the international community.

Camel racing is also popular elsewhere in the Arab world, as well as in Asia and even Australia.

Camel races were continuously held during the Islamic era, promoting the practice of equestrian sports and bravery.

Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) companions were known for camel racing.

The camels that take part in races are known as “thaluls” in Arabic, or riding camels.

Among the most famous ones are: Thalul Al-Hurra (aka The Free Camel), as well as those from central and northern the Arabian Peninsula, such as Aseela, from the Thalul Al-Hurra breed, and the Omani Thaluls, known for being a graceful, slim and noble type of camels.

The Sudanese Thaluls, which are known for the strength and patience and adapting to the challenging desert conditions.

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