ABU DHABI // The track at the Yas Marina Circuit came alive yesterday, not with the screeching tyres of racing cars but with the cheers of thousands of workers. As an estimated 1,500 men, most of them from construction firms, prepared to run a four-kilometre race, their supporters cheered from the stands, shouting the names of the companies that the workers were representing.
To commemorate International Workers Day, the Ministry of Labour organised a "marathon" for workers from more than 30 companies. This is the second year of the event. Last year, the workers ran along the Corniche. Humaid bin Deemas, acting director-general of the Ministry of Labour, arrived to watch the race and stood by the track to see the runners complete the circuit. "There is a message today for the community, firms and society," he said.
"It is to respect the workers, protect them, protect their rights that will enhance the relationship between the workers and the owners of the companies." Before the start of the 5.30pm race, workers lined up, and while some chatted and looked for familiar faces, others did stretching exercises. Dressed in blue caps and white T-shirts that said, "International Labour Day: Our workers are our partners in development", a number of the runners helped themselves to water bottles stacked at the starting line on the hot but cloudy and windy afternoon.
Asim Ghafoor, 23, a driver from Pakistan with the Al Jaber company, heard about the race from his friend, Kulchander Singh, who works as a clerk. Mr Singh said that workers from their company believed Mr Ghafoor was the favourite to win the race. "After two hours of eating dinner he would run for two hours," Mr Singh said of Mr Ghafoor, who was an athletics standout at his school in Rawalpindi. Meanwhile, workers from Al Habtoor Group said they had conducted eliminations over the past month to ensure that only the fittest runners were sent to the competition.
Larry Caracas, 42, a shift manager from the Philippines, said 100 runners came from the company's engineering division alone. "We did endurance and strength training for two months," he said. "I am confident. The training was enough." The prize money for the winners was increased this year. The winner was awarded Dh7,000 (US$1,360) followed by Dh6,000 for second place, Dh5,000 for third, Dh4,000 for fourth, Dh3,000 for fifth and Dh1,000 each for sixth through 10th place.
Omar Mohammed Saad, a 25-year-old Egyptian, finished second and said he would spend his prize money on jewellery for his fiancé in Egypt ahead of their wedding. Farooq Ali, 23, a Bangladeshi who works for the Arabian Construction Company (ACC), was last year's winner. Soon after, he was promoted to the position of security guard. Yesterday, he placed seventh and said he was disappointed with his performance. "I was just thinking about it too much," he said.
But the largest group of cheerleaders in the stands - from ACC - were not disappointed. They whistled and shouted as the top runner of the day was one of their co-workers, Ifran Ahmed, 23, from Pakistan. He won by about five metres, and fell to the track after crossing the finish line. He was both tired and exhilarated. Mr Ahmed, who works as a steel fixer for ACC, finished sixth last year. To improve his endurance, he trained for a month by running 16km back and forth between the labour camp and his worksite near the Mena port area in the capital.
He said he would send home his winnings. "One does not run for money," he said. "One runs to earn respect." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org