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Inaugural AlUla Camel Cup brings to light Saudi Arabia’s desert heritage

The ancient sport of camel racing has flourished in Saudi Arabia across the centuries (Supplied)
The ancient sport of camel racing has flourished in Saudi Arabia across the centuries (Supplied)
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08 Mar 2023 01:03:17 GMT9
08 Mar 2023 01:03:17 GMT9
  • Chief tourism officer of Royal Commission for AlUla writes exclusively for Arab News about the historical significance of this event ahead of competition taking place on March 14-17

Phillip Jones

As the sun rose above the desert dunes, the seventh century men, women, and children of the early Islamic period would come together on special occasions for social gatherings and festivals. Among the festivities in the land that would become the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, camels competed against each other, thundering over the sand to the raucous cheers of their owners and supporters in the crowds.

And so the cherished homegrown sport of camel racing was born, a traditional pursuit from the most ancient of times that has been preserved and flourishes in modern Saudi Arabia.

The inaugural AlUla Camel Cup, organized by the Royal Commission for AlUla as part of the AlUla Moments calendar, in collaboration with the Saudi Camel Racing Federation, is the pinnacle of this year’s camel racing season. It is the next step in evolving a sport that has thrived from humble origins.

To be held from March 14-17, complete with a grand prize pool of $21 million — the highest prize pot in the world per round of camel racing — the AlUla Camel Cup honors the Kingdom’s revered sport in the most apt setting.

Against the stunning backdrop of AlUla, a place of extraordinary human and natural heritage, a “Champion of Champions” will be crowned on ground which was one of the main stops along the ancient Incense Road and pilgrimage routes. You only need a glimpse of AlUla to see the significance of the camel’s contribution and legacy. Be it rock art or figurines, depictions of camels dot the landscape of this breathtaking oasis, illustrating the unique human-animal relationship that continues to be so important to the region’s people nowadays.

AlUla, the living museum, holds some 200,000 years of largely unexplored human history. But AlUla as a modern tourist destination is relatively new, and there is much that we can all learn from the beloved camel on how to evolve over time.

Think of the camel’s numerous adaptations that have helped it thrive in a desert environment — the long, shaggy fur that keeps them warm but which they can shed during hot months, the wide hooves that are perfect for running on sand, and the energy-rich fat stored in their humps that enables them to survive long periods without food.

This is why the AlUla Camel Cup has been adapted to go beyond the incredible capabilities of animals known as the “ships of the desert.”

A gala dinner, live auction, cultural market, and an arts-filled evening featuring local and global stars performing across music and other arts bolster an itinerary befitting the grandeur of such a special and momentous occasion in the Kingdom’s sports calendar. Embracing glamour and style, the four-day AlUla Camel Cup will also showcase the most refined and chic of fashion events.

The AlUla Camel Cup is an ode to the rich cultural inheritance of an ancient sport, and a tribute to the pivotal role of camels in AlUla’s rise, bringing camel racing to new horizons in the 21st century while providing just as much passion and excitement to attendees as to those who watched on in the seventh century, who propelled this glorious and noble sport into exhilarating motion.

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