From horse riding to falconry and camel racing, there are many traditional sports in the UAE. Tourists and expats living in the UAE can immerse themselves in the culture of the country by participating in these sports activities and events held in the different emirates. Let’s explore some of the most popular traditional sports in the UAE.
FAMOUS TRADITIONAL SPORTS IN THE UAE
Shooting, diving and several other skills that were once part of the desert economy have now become popular sports in the UAE. Here are some of the best sporting activities the country has to offer.
Falconry is one of the oldest and well-loved sports in the UAE. Falconry is more of an art than a sport. One needs a lot of patience to train birds and show off their skills. Falconry has also garnered prestige as many rulers of the UAE are also enthusiasts of this traditional sport, and have imported falcons from around the world. These include species like Saker falcons, Altai gyrfalcons, gyrfalcons, Golden eagles and Houbara bustards.
Over the years, however, there have been restrictions on the commercial sale and import of these birds because many of these species are endangered. Moreover, the Emirates Bird Society is also making an effort to save and raise public awareness about the endangered species and stop the illegal trade of falcons. These days, most birds are bred in captivity and fetch more than AED 500k each.
Falconry skills are also showcased through competitions like the International Hunting & Equestrian Exhibition in Abu Dhabi as well as the Sheikh Zayed Heritage Festival. Winners of falconry contests can easily bag up to AED 500k in prizes.
Camel racing in UAE is another traditional sport which Emiratis take pride in. This sporting activity is still popular in the country despite the arrival of modern races and motorsports in the UAE.
Local camel racing involves two types of camels: Sudania and Omani. Traditionally, camel riding and racing is part of special events like weddings. However, the sport has also become formalised, with more than a dozen race tracks across the UAE built to international standards including the renowned Nad Al Sheba Racecourse.
Do check out our article on camel racing in Dubai to learn more about local camel breeds as well as popular camel racing venues.
Equestrian sports like horse racing are also famous in the UAE. The Arabian horse is one of the most recognised and sought-after breeds in the world, which further weaves horse riding and racing into the fabric of Middle Eastern culture. The country also hosts prestigious horse racing competitions, the most notable of which is the Dubai World Cup, which is well-known for offering the highest horse racing cash prizes in the world. The UAE has also played host to the FEI World Endurance Championship, the international governing body of equestrian sports.
Moreover, you can easily find horse riding facilities in all the emirates. Some of the most popular facilities include the Abu Dhabi Hunting & Equestrian Club, Ajman Equestrian Club, Jebel Ali Equestrian Club and Sharjah Equestrian & Racing Club.
The UAE also has its fair share of traditional watersports. Traditional boat racing, for instance, involves spirited competitions between teams as they propel their ‘dhows’ towards the finish line. Boat races usually take place in the cooler months, from October to April.
While you are in the UAE, you can also experience the pleasure of a dhow cruise, especially at Dubai Creek where you can also enjoy the views of the old city. The dhow is a local wooden boat, traditionally used for fishing and pearl diving. Modern dhows are now equipped with excellent amenities for offshore sailing along the coasts of Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
A marine sports festival is also held in Mubarraz Island every December to promote traditional watersports in the UAE. Dhow sailing competitions are also held along the Sir Bu Nuair Island to keep the traditional sport alive.
Another traditional sport in the UAE is freediving. In the old days, divers spent months in search of pearls. Pearl diving in the UAE goes back to the 12th century, but it’s viability as the leading economic activity faded with the development of cultured pearls during the last century.
Today, freediving is one of the hotly contested sports in the country. The UAE also hosts the Fazza Freediving Championship, where highly skilled divers from around the world endure months of hardship and risk possible drowning. They have to remain in water that is 30 metres deep for as long as three minutes.
You can also try scuba diving and surfing in the UAE, some of the more popular water-based activities.
The Saluki is one of the oldest dog breeds in the world. Traditional desert hunting expeditions in the UAE used to combine the skills of falcons and Saluki dogs, and today, Saluki racing has become one of the most popular and prized sports in the UAE.
Championships are held by the HHC during the Arab Heritage Saluki Race Festival. Saluki races are held at racetracks such as Sweihan, near Abu Dhabi and Al Marmoom in Dubai. Salukis are some of the fastest dogs in the world and can reach speeds of up to 65kmph, and the winning dogs can bag prizes of up to AED 400k.
It is believed that archery in the Middle East dates back to the time of the Babylonians and Assyrians. In fact, excavations at Ed-Dur have unearthed a large number of ‘trilobate’ arrowheads dating back 2,000 years which also sheds light on the ancient archery practices in the region. Ancient arrowheads can also be seen at various museums across the country.
Archery also has religious significance for Muslims, which makes it one of the most popular sporting activities in the UAE.
Residents and tourists can practise archery at sporting venues as well as camping sites and resorts. The Jebel Ali Shooting Club is one of the best places for those who want to practice archery in Dubai.
Finally, we have the sport of shooting, which also has a long history in the UAE. Part of hunting and local warfare, shooting skills have become an integral part of the local sporting culture. This is evident in the many Olympic championships won by shooters from the UAE. Popular sharpshooters from the include Abdullah Sultan Al Aryani and Sheikh Ahmed bin Hasher Al Maktoum.
Local shooting events are held in Dubai and Al Ain, where local talent gets to compete with the best international shooters. The Fazza Championship for Saktoun Rifle Shooting also attracts female shooting talent in the UAE.
This wraps up our guide to traditional sports in the UAE.
Overall, the UAE has invested heavily in its sporting infrastructure and you can find world-class indoor and outdoor venues for cricket, football, golfing and even motorsports.
The landscape also allows for exciting outdoor activities in the UAE, such as trekking, rock climbing and scuba diving.