"The present generation must know the hardship and the suffering of the generations that lived before them. For this knowledge will promote their strength, patience, and struggle to continue the path which was initiated by our fathers and forefathers."
- Sheikh Zayed, the first President of the UAE
It was one of Sheikh Zayed's priorities to preserve the customs of a country that was modernising at breakneck pace. While keeping the importance of time-honoured traditions in mind, it sometimes helps to have a little incentive.
The annual Sheikh Zayed Camel Race Grand Prix Festival, from January 1 to 5 at Al Wathba camel racetrack, will bring together more than 10,000 camels competing in various events from racing to beauty contests. The festival will offer prizes totalling Dh30 million (US$8.2m).
"It is one of the biggest congregations of camels in the country," said Abdulla Mubarak Saeed Al Muhairi, the director general of the UAE Camel Racing Association. The festival will have 155 races over various categories and distances. "It is a traditional festival that all Emiratis as well as the expatriates should come to watch. They are full-day activities from morning until evening with a lot of sideshows, both cultural and folklore that everyone should experience."
Al Muhairi said free shuttle services from Abu Dhabi city, Al Ain and Dubai would be available.
Camel racing is a sport rooted in the culture and traditions of the country. The indigenous people still breed, raise and train them for racing.
"Camel racing is run under rules, like in horse racing," said Adnan Sultan Al Nuaimi, the director general of the Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club.
"The racing camels have an identification to verify their age, breed and grade. The races are for two year olds and upwards, and distances range from 4km to 10km. The camel racetrack is circular or oval, and can support around 30 entries.
"The races are also graded similar to horse-racing grading. And the winning camel is subject to a drug test."
According to Hamad Butti, a member of the organising committee, camel racing is not a spontaneous sport.
"It is a tradition, and yet there are rules and regulations governing the conduct of races and participation," he said. "They are also entertaining and enjoyable, not only for those involved but for the onlooker as well."
Besides the races, there will also be competitions including beauty shows, milking and breeding, and auctions.