Camels have one of the most extensive migration histories in the animal kingdom. While the species originated in North America, the biggest concentrations of camels now exist in the Middle East, North Africa and China, while some wild camels remain in Australia and Latin America.
In the time since they were first domesticated in the Arabian Peninsula, camels have been an essential part of life in Qatar, providing meat and milk as well as a means of transport and a sign of social prestige. They have also served as a source of entertainment and competition. Inscribed in 2020 on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, camel racing boasts a history that goes back as far as the 7th century.
For centuries, races traditionally took place on special occasions, such as weddings, Eid celebrations, or to welcome honoured guests. While rubies were once a customary prize for race winners, modern camel racing has upped the stakes, with golden trophies and cash prizes reaching the tens of thousands.
Modern professional camel racing was introduced in Qatar’s Al-Shahanyia municipality in 1973, and has grown in popularity every year since then. The sport continues to evolve, including a 2005 rule that banned human jockeys and replaced them with remote controlled robot-jockeys, a move that was seen as fusing the traditional sport with modernity and technology.