Camels’ Racing Debut Checkered

MONDAY, AUG. 18, 1997

Billed as Europe’s first camel races, the Sheik Zayed Cup was more of a sideshow than a competition among the hump-backed contestants, some of which were more interested in running in circles or eating than crossing the finish line Sunday.

About 40,000 Germans were on hand at a harness-racing track on the outskirts of Berlin, where a pack of 12 camels bolted from the starting line then disappeared around a curve.

Moments later, one camel suddenly popped back around - ignoring the embarrassed German jockey clinging desperately to its single hump - and charged back across the starting line. Along the way, the camel passed a rival running in circles.

Despite the antics, the race appeared to be a hit for “the camel connection,” a group of businessmen and government officials from the United Arab Emirates and Germany - including German economics minister Guenter Rexrodt - seeking to promote business contacts.

“It’s about promoting friendship between the two countries - nothing else,” said Salem Alsaaedi, who was among the United Arab Emirates delegation besieged by German businessmen in a VIP lounge.

Camel-racing in Arab countries long ago shed its origins as a form of entertainment for Bedouins at wedding parties and was legalized as a sport 42 years ago.

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