As you may or may not know, camel racing - known as the Sport of Sheiks - is huge in many of the Arab States, and Australia. Yes, Australia. I didn't even know they had camels in Australia.
Anyway, jockeys for a long time in camel racing have been children, sometimes as young as 5 or 6. Being a camel jockey is about the same as being a horse jockey in the US. Except you're younger, don't get paid, get less respect, are basically a slave and have no childhood. Sweet, where do I sign up? Although many Arab States continue to use kids, a few have phased them out for - wait for it - small whipping robots. Although it took a few years to get the robots right, since initially many fell off the camels, or, I shit you not, MELTED, they've recently been perfected to whip away at will. The robot even includes a speaker so verbal commands can be given to the camel. Thank you technology. The robot jockeys are also dressed up to look like minature people.
And if you think that's pretty crazy, it only gets more bizarre. Here's an interesting description from the Christian Science Monitor on how the races are conducted now.
- Races today – typically six miles long – feature parallel tracks. The camels – with robots dressed up in colorful cotton jerseys and jockey caps strapped on – run on the inside racetrack. And the sheikhs , owners, and trainers – piled into four-wheel drive vehicles – follow the races on an outside, paved lane, screeching instructions into the remote controls and pressing the "whip on behind" button like there was no tomorrow. [Here's the full article]
Both the United Arab Emirates and Qatar have phased out child jockeys and are now exclusively using robots, and I guess Kuwait is headed in that direction as well. In Australia, jockeys are usually women, and less emphasis is placed on weight than in Arab States. Interestingly, the robots have helped revitalize the sport. I assume this is because it's easier to cheer for a robot than a malnourished 6-year-old.
So naturally I'm wondering when our little robot friends will come to the US and give horse racing a boost. I know I'd be cheering for the mini-robot to whip his way past a human jockey to win the Kentucky Derby.
By the way, if you'd like to know more about the switch to robots in camel racing - and who doesn't - here's a more detailed news report.