Viewing cable 05MUSCAT209
Title: CAMEL RACING, FROM TOP DOWN TO BOTTOM UP

IdentifierCreatedReleasedClassificationOrigin
05MUSCAT2092005-02-08 04:32:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Muscat
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS E F T O SECTION 01 OF 02 MUSCAT 000209 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE/NOFORN 
 
DEPT FOR NEA/ARPI (TROBERTS), G/TIP 
DEPT ALSO FOR DRL/IL (JDEMARIA), DRL/CRA (SCOOKE, DDOLAN 
STATE PASS USTR (JBUNTIN, WCLATANOFF) 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/07/2015 
TAGS: PHUM SCUL PGOV ELAB MU
SUBJECT: CAMEL RACING, FROM TOP DOWN TO BOTTOM UP 
 
REF: MUSCAT 00164 
 
Classified By: Ambassador Richard L. Baltimore III. 
Reason:  1.4 (d) 
 
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SUMMARY 
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¶1. (SBU/NF) During a February 3 camel race organized by 
prominent Omanis and Emiratis, the Ambassador heard directly 
from the senior royal family member heading Oman's Camel 
Federation on why abuses of camel jockeys that reportedly 
take place in the UAE are absent in Oman.  The official cited 
that fact that camel racing has remained an integral part of 
Bedouin society in Oman for both boys and girls, obviating 
the need to import jockeys from other countries.  PolOff's 
first-hand observations of the races, including conversations 
with young jockeys, supported the royal family member's 
claims.  As UAE camel owners brought their steeds but no 
jockeys, this appears to have been a rare instance where 
Omani riders were paid to take on those temporary duties.  No 
element of abuse or coercion was in any way evident.  End 
summary. 
 
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KENTUCKY DERBY, CAMEL-STYLE 
--------------------------- 
 
¶2. (SBU/NF)  On February 3, the Ambassador and PolOff 
attended a regional camel race in Oman's Dakhiliyah region 
that was the brainchild of UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin 
Zayed al-Nahyan and presided over by Yahya bin Mahfoudh 
al-Mantheri, president of Oman's State Council.  The festive 
race was held on the sprawling desert estate of host His 
Highness Sayyid Asa'ad bin Tariq al-Said, a first cousin of 
the Sultan and president of the Oman Equestrian and Camel 
Federation.  Unlike the modest Bedouin races in local 
communities (reftel), the regional race at al-Bashair brought 
together racing enthusiasts and elites from as far afield as 
Salalah and the United Arab Emirates.  In what might be 
described as the "Kentucky Derby" of Omani camel racing, 
invitees included government dignitaries, wealthy 
expatriates, a few diplomats, and local Bedouin tribes. 
 
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SAYYID ASA'AD DENIES ABUSES IN OMAN 
----------------------------------- 
 
¶3. (SBU/NF) One of the few diplomats invited, the Ambassador 
had the opportunity both during the races and in a subsequent 
tour of the estate to discuss camel racing with Sayyid 
Asa'ad.  Sayyid Asa'ad said he was very familiar with the 
abuses of camel jockeys in the UAE, attributing them to the 
fact that the sport of camel racing had effectively died out 
in the Emirates, forcing Emirati racing enthusiasts to 
"import" both trainers and jockeys from other countries. 
Camel racing in Oman, on the other hand, always was and has 
remained a bedrock of the Bedouin culture.  For that reason, 
there are no foreign nationals involved in the sport in Oman. 
 (Note: His British business manager confided separately to 
the Ambassador that he had never heard of a non-Omani jockey 
in the Sultanate.  End note.)  Sayyid Asa'ad assured the 
Ambassador that any assumption of coercion or abuse of camel 
jockeys in Oman is completely unfounded and "outrageous." 
 
¶4. (SBU/NF) Sayyid Asa'ad noted that he had had to explain 
the differences between camel racing in the UAE and Oman to 
the UK's Princess Anne during a prior visit.  She had assumed 
that there was no difference in UAE and Omani practices.  He 
explained to her how he was proud of the fact that camel 
racing remains a vital part of village life throughout the 
Sultanate, and that both boys and girls (typically 10-11 
years old) participate equally.  Nevertheless, he is 
intrigued by some of the changes the UAE is undertaking, 
including a study on the use of robots to replace jockeys. 
Sayyid Asa'ad revealed that the Oman Equestrian and Camel 
Federation had run experiments using two such robots on 
camels the previous week, and that the camels did not seem to 
mind their mechanical substitutes. 
 
-------------------------------------------- 
GROUND-LEVEL VIEW: ALL OMANIS, BUT SOME PAID 
-------------------------------------------- 
 
¶5. (SBU/NF)  While the VIP's were ensconced in their 
grandstand perches at the finish line, PolOff observed the 
action up-close three kilometers away, where the camels, 
jockeys, trainers and jeeps were lining up for the first race 
at the 3 kilometer marker.  The crowd was a solid mix of 
Omanis and Emiratis, with many of the Emiratis bringing their 
own camels and trainers, but not jockeys. A 20-something 
Sudanese trainer who had raced camels in Dubai as a youngster 
and now served as a trainer for a UAE camel breeder. In this 
showcase where winning camels can sell for upwards of USD 
262,000, only a few Omani camels took home prizes on this day 
(just one first-place finish out of five heats).  PolOff 
observed the fierce competition among young Omani jockeys for 
the offer of 20 riyals (about USD 50) to race the UAE camels 
for visiting Emiratis.  A finish among the top five would net 
these "hired" jockeys additional prize money of USD 786. 
 
¶6. (SBU/NF)  While the race at Sayyid Asa'ad's estate in 
al-Bashair was certainly larger and more prestigious than 
those in local villages, it was nonetheless a rather 
traditional event centered around the Bedouin culture of the 
area.  Every one of the nearly two dozen jockeys with whom 
PolOff spoke were Omani and from known camel-racing villages 
such as Biddiya, al-Qabil, and Sur.  As in other races, both 
boys and girls were present.  Dressed in their best outfits, 
the children were accompanied by family relatives and 
appeared healthy, cheerful, and full of spunk. 
 
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HOW THE RACE IS RUN 
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¶7. (SBU/NF)  About six miles off the main road in the desert 
community of al-Bashair (some 180 km southwest of Muscat), 
Sayyid Asa'ad's racetrack is as informal and modest as other 
tracks throughout Oman.  Surrounded by some bar fencing, the 
15-kilometer track forms a large oval in the desert.  Markers 
are posted the length of the course to designate the 3 km, 4 
km, 5 km, 6 km and 8 km starting points. 
 
¶8. (SBU/NF)  As the camels took off, the jeeps jammed with 
trainers raced alongside the track, shouting support and 
instructions through transistor radios tied to the jockeys. 
(NOTE:  An ambulance kept pace with the riders along the 
interior of the track.)  The heat ended as the gathering dust 
cloud reached the finish line in front of the viewing 
grandstand.  The winning camel received a ritual feeding by 
local Bedouin women, after which all of the riders, camels, 
and drivers would head back out to the next marker and start 
over again.  Each race proceeded in identical fashion, taking 
about 20 minutes to organize and run. 
 
¶9. (SBU/NF)  Spectators of all ages and both genders 
assembled at the finish line to enjoy the entertainment.  As 
the crowd anxiously waited for the camels to come into sight, 
spectators were treated to dancing, music, and an array of 
cultural displays by the local community.  The excitement 
came to a climax as the fifth and last heat ended. The 
boisterous crowd, held back by a swarm of Royal Oman Police, 
gathered to witness the prize distribution by State Council 
President Yahya al-Mantheri.  The proud owners of first-place 
finishers in each heat were awarded a new Toyota LandCruiser. 
 Swords were given to the second place finishers, and cash 
prizes went to the owners whose steeds placed third, fourth, 
and fifth. 
 
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COMMENT 
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¶10. (SBU/NF) While we cannot attest first-hand to what may go 
on with camel racing in neighboring countries, we have 
neither seen nor heard of anything in Oman to suggest that 
the young Omani jockeys are in any way mistreated or coerced. 
 Rather, the sport is deeply ingrained into the cultural 
heritage of Omani families, and regulated by the most 
rigorous norm imaginable - the parental bond.  While 
initially concerned about the Emirati participation in this 
race, we were happy to find that UAE-based jockeys did not 
take part.  The fact that some Omani kids who normally race 
for free were given payment by Emirati owners to jockey their 
camels does not, in our view, constitute child labor. 
BALTIMORE