Traditional sports of the UAE reflect this city’s culture and old-school lifestyle. As you might know, due to the UAE’s dry climate, this country has vast stretches of sand or rugged terrain. So that this place residents have special skills to thrive in such a harsh environment, which over time changes into an inseparable part of their lives. Nowadays, the UAE has undergone profound development in many aspects, and its harsh deserts are tamed to serve as tourist attractions. However, the skills that the desert people needed to master for survival were rehearsed through time and emerged as traditional sports. Keep reading and find out what are the top UAE traditional sports and games.
Why are UAE traditional sports so important?
Before I want to go through the top traditional Emirati games, let’s talk a bit about the importance of these sports among Arab people and throughout the whole world.
● Traditional Games of UAE define that nation’s identity:
From dances to ball games and water sports, traditional sports and games constitute a significant part of a nation’s culture and history and define that nation’s identity. They span genders, generations, and individualities. Traditional sports are localized as an important part of a nation’s culture, like music, language, literature, and architecture, where you can uniquely and engagingly find the story of each creed.
● Traditional sports in the UAE are the symbol of this country:
Contrary to what the name might suggest, traditional sports are not necessarily about competition and physical activity. They are much more and symbolize something more. You do not have to be an expert to take part in traditional sports. Instead, these games provide a great opportunity for everyone to enjoy the fun and engage in beneficial social interaction.
● The UAE traditional sports tell the historical story of this region:
The UAE’s traditional sports have emerged from the nation’s culture and history and tell the story of what has gone before. They are still practiced today by not only the UAE residents but people from other regions of the world who are intrigued by these sports and games.
What are the most popular traditional games in UAE?
As mentioned above, the traditional sports of the UAE were once part of the desert economy and prerequisites for thriving in desert life. Today, the meaning of social and economic management has changed and requires new skills and knowledge. However, the UAE’s traditional sports remained popular among the people and eventually transformed into recreational activities. Here are a number of these famous sports in UAE:
● Camel Racing, one of the most thrilling UAE sports:
Camels are desert animals and were among the main means of transportation in the old days. Considering this, no wonder camel riding and camel racing are among the UAE’s top traditional sports. They are so popular that even the sound of roaring car engines in modern races has not been able to drive these traditional sports out of the competition.
Sudan and Oman are major camel breeders of the Arab world, and in the race tracks, you’ll only find Omani or Sudan camels. Other breeds are not used in races. Race camels are fed on a special diet of dates, bran, and oats. Sometimes, they are even given cow’s milk too. Racing authorities determine a camel’s age by observing its teeth. If they reach a certain age, they will be selected for races. Every day, trainers make the camels run certain distances to enhance their stamina and prepare them for the tracks. Animals also undergo a thorough medical examination before being registered for competition.
In the past, camel racing was a practice exclusive to wedding ceremonies. But nowadays, it is recognized as an official sport in the UAE. There are many race tracks across the country, and Nad Al Sheba Racecourse in Dubai and Al Wathba in Abu Dhabi are two of the most famous ones. Also, you can ride camels in many of the country’s desert camping spots. Check out our article on the best UAE camping spots to learn more.
● Falconry, one of the oldest UAE traditional sports:
Falconry is one of the oldest and most cherished traditional sports in the UAE. Food is scarce in deserts, and Arab tribes of old had to come up with innovative ways to battle hunger. Falconry, this 2000-year-old sport was initially a means of sourcing food in the desert. Falcons were trained to aid hunters in their hunt for animals, such as hares and houbara, and falconry became an inseparable part of the UAE culture.
Falcon trainers train their trusty hunting partners with great patience, and many consider this practice as an art more than a sport. It also became a prestigious practice when it became the favorite sport of the UAE royal families. UAE Emirs have also imported the species of falcons from other countries.
Nowadays, falconry is not practiced widely due to the endangerment of the species of these birds. Also, new restrictions have been imposed on falcons’ commercial sale and import. Trainers usually showcase their skills in annual festivals and through competitions such as the International Hunting & Equestrian Exhibition in Abu Dhabi as well as the Sheikh Zayed Heritage Festival. The lucky winner of these competitions can score up to a whopping 500k-Emirati-dirham prize.
● Horse Racing, a traditional sport in UAE, cherished by the Dubai Royal Family:
Arabian horses can easily be recognized by the district shape of their heads and are one of the most sought-after breeds across the world. Arabian horses have dense, strong bones, and their superior stamina has made them perfect for endurance riding. Wherever there are fine steeds like the Arabian, one can expect that horse racing is one of the most popular sports.
Horse racing is appreciated by the people of the UAE and other countries of the world, and also the UAE royal families. Emir of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and his son, the crown prince, Sheikh Hamdan are skilled horse riders. They have won several riding competitions in foreign countries (if you want to learn more about the Emirati ruling class, check out our guide to royal families of the UAE).
The UAE also hosts several prestigious horse racing competitions, among which the Dubai World Cup is famous for rewarding its winners with the highest monetary prizes. For example, the prize money for the 2021 winners was a whopping $12 million! The country has also hosted the FEI World Endurance Championship. All emirates of the UAE feature top-notch horse racing facilities, which reflects the preciousness of horse riding to the Emiratis.
● Dhow Racing sports in the UAE, the art of sailing in traditional boats:
Don’t let the UAE’s dry climate trick you into believing that the Emiratis are strangers to watersports! In fact, most of the world-renowned major cities of the UAE were once small fishing villages, and their economy mostly depended on what the sea had to offer. This made room for several watersports in the UAE’s culture, among which traditional boat sailing is still widely practiced.
Historians speculate that the original traditional Arabian boats, known as “Dhows” were used for fishing and pearl diving or as trading vessels carrying fruits and other goods. A dhow is a wooden boat and usually has one or two masts and a long overhang forward.
Nowadays, Dhows are used in traditional boat races in cooler seasons, from October to April. Every year, a watersport festival is held in Mubarraz Island near Abu Dhabi in which you can watch spirited competitors sailing their Dhows towards the finish line. Another hotspot for Dhow sailing competitions is Sir Bu Nair Island.
While Dhows are not used exclusively in races, the modern version of these traditional boats is well-equipped with the newest amenities for the convenience of the passengers. If you want to bask in the pleasure of a Dhow cruise while enjoying the view of the city, you can head to Dubai Creek and indulge yourself.
● Free Diving, the popular traditional sport in UAE that was paramount to the UAE’s pearling industry:
Free diving is another traditional watersport in the UAE, and in the past, it was a necessary skill for pearl divers who wanted to be a part of the pearling industry. Pearl diving, which dates back to the 12th century, is a pillar of the UAE’s economy. This industry was not only profitable for most locals, but attracted bold adventurers and treasure hunters from other regions of the world. In fact, the UAE’s two world-renowned metropolises, Dubai and Abu Dhabi came into being thanks to the region’s lucrative pearling industry. Previously, pearl divers from across the region and even other countries invested in the best Dubai developments and bought modern homes in Abu Dhabi and moved there with their families to hunt the treasures deep in the pearling sites of these two cities.
The industry collapsed in the early 1900s due to the development of cultured pearls. Diving, however, remained popular among people as a recreational activity and is one of the UAE’s hotly contested traditional sports. And many people from around the world join the free diving competitions that the UAE hosts. For example, the Fazza Freediving Championship is one of these major sports events attracting highly skilled divers from across the world, which obliges them to remain underwater at a depth of 30 meters for as long as three minutes.
● Saluki Racing, a traditional sport of UAE, commemorates traditional hunting:
Falcons were not the only companions of hunters and trackers of old. During hunting expeditions, hunters were also accompanied by their loyal hunting dogs, the Salukis. Saluki is one of the oldest dog breeds, and desert tribes used to train this breed to run down game animals. Arabian Saluki dogs were so fast they could even catch a running gazelle! They can reach speeds of up to 65 km/h. Many Saluki dogs died during the second world war, but breeders managed to save this breed, so they are still alive.
Nowadays, Saluki racing is one of the UAE’s most popular and prized traditional sports. Each year in the UAE, the Hamdan bin Mohammed Heritage Center (HHC) holds a festival called the Arab Heritage Saluki Race, where Saluki dogs race at racetracks such as Sweihan near Abu Dhabi and Al Marmoom in Dubai. The winning dogs reward their owners with prizes as high as AED 400k!
● Archery, an ancient eastern practice and one of the most popular sports in the UAE:
Archery is one of the oldest practices in the Middle East and dates back to the era of the Babylonians and Assyrians. This Middle Eastern superiority in archery equipment and techniques allowed this region’s people to conquer much of Europe and Asia. Ancient Arabs used bows on foot or from the back of a horse or a camel. They used different kinds of arrows. Excavations at the ancient city of Al Dour in the emirate of Umm Al Quwain have led to the discovery of 2000-year-old trilobite arrowheads. Today, you can find many of these ancient arrowheads at the UAE museums, such as Al Ain Museum in Abu Dhabi, the oldest museum in the country.
The desert tribes of old practiced archery not only for hunting but also for military purposes. Archery is also of significant religious importance to Muslims since it was cherished by their prophet Muhammad and nowadays, it is one of the top traditional sports in UAE. Many camping sites, resorts, and sporting venues across the country allow their visitors to practice archery. If you ever find yourself in Dubai and want to hone your marksmanship skills, pay a visit to the Jebel Ali Shooting Club, the best place to practice archery.
● Shooting, one of the more recent traditional Emirati sports:
By the time guns made their way to the Middle East, the people of the UAE had long been practicing archery and boasting their marksmanship skills. That’s why they welcomed this new means of hunting and warfare with open arms, and shooting found a foothold in UAE’s culture. UAE sharpshooters have won many Olympic championships, which shows this sport’s importance to the nation. Abdullah Sultan Al Aryani and Sheikh Ahmed bin Hasher Al Maktoum are two famous Emirati sharpshooters.
There are many world-class shooting ranges in the UAE. For example if you buy a luxurious house in Dubai, or visit this city as a tourist, you can visit the Jebel Ali beach resort and enjoy using one of the top gun ranges in the UAE. Also, Jebel Ali Shooting Club, which has an outdoor and an indoor environment, welcomes gun lovers of all levels. Also, Abu Dhabi is home to some of the greatest shooting clubs in the UAE. Al Ain Shooting Club meets the highest standards of the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) and offers a wide range of facilities.
● Bullfighting, a controversial UAE sport:
Popular among cattle breeders, bullfighting is a less-known tradition in the emirate of Fujairah. Each Friday afternoon, breeders gather together and organize fights to determine which cattle are stronger. It is different from Spain and Portugal fights, and organizers insist that there is no bloodshed in the matches and it’s more about the animals’ show of strength and the owners’ pride.
Animal rights campaigners, however, condemn these fights and believe they are unnecessary. Overall, bullfighting is a controversial tradition in the UAE, and the authorities still can’t decide whether it should be banned or not.
● UAE Traditional Games:
Aside from traditional sports, you can find a number of traditional games that have emerged from Arabian culture and are still very popular among the people of the UAE, including:
- Ghommemah: A game of tag in which the tagger wears a blindfold. The tagger chases other players as they run around, and when they catch someone, they must guess who they are. If the guess is correct, the player that was caught becomes the tagger and wears the blindfold.
- Fashkhah: Two players sit together on the ground with their legs straight out. Another player tries to jump over their legs. Each time the player makes a successful jump, the other two sit further away from each other. The game continues until the player fails to make the jump.
- Carrom: An ancient pool-like board game that requires two players. Each player has a set of nine disks, either black or white. There is also a red disk called the queen. Players must get all of their disks and then the queen onto the four pockets on the corners of the game board using a special disk called the striker.
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Our article on traditional sports in the UAE will end here. These sports have emerged from the UAE’s unique culture and are reflections of the lives of people of old. The region was once a vast terrain of sand that stretched along the sea. Desert tribes relied on hunting and the use of camels and horses to survive and thrive, while the economy of coastal villages depended majorly on the sea. And after years, these daily practices eventually turned into recreational activities and became the UAE’s traditional sports. Now that you know what are the top UAE traditional games, I should add that UAE offers other advantages to its visitors, such as strong passports (we have covered all about the UAE passport in another article). The good news is that you can become a UAE citizen and have permanent access to all the fun and joy, thanks to the new UAE citizenship law. If you feel intrigued, start by investing in Off plan projects in the UAE. Don’t worry about the procedure; our team at dxboffplan.com are always ready to help. Do not forget that you can contact us 24/7 online and simply through the site.
frequently asked questions
Among the most popular UAE traditional sports, I can mention Falconry, Camel Racing, Horse Racing, Boat Racing, and so on.
The sure answer is yes, from the past until now equestrianism is a popular sport among Emirate nations.
Many people believe that due to this country's lack of sources, most people create games based on their creativity.
Falconry is one of the oldest UAE traditions, which dates back to 2000 years, and still is one of the most popular UAE traditional sports.