The 2012 London Olympics may have involved each country going for the gold, but this weekend, in Kampala, Uganda, sports fans will instead be going for the goat.
The Royal Ascot Goat Races, held at the Speke Resort on the shores of Lake
Victoria, have been an annual Kampala tradition since 1993. A local sailing
club was looking for an unusual fundraiser and borrowed the idea from a
Zimbabwe horse breeder who celebrated his birthday with a pig race since his
garden was not big enough to race horses. The club decided to swap the pigs for
goats, and the race was born.
As the event grew in popularity, organisers
decided to model it after the Royal Ascot horse races in England, complete with
outrageous outfits and hats. The races have become a favourite spot to see and
be seen in the Ugandan social calendar, and prizes are awarded to the best
dressed man and woman, and to the person with the best, most elaborate hat .
This year’s eight goat races will be held on 1
September -- but the term “races” might be a misnomer. The cloven-hooved
creatures are not exactly known for their speed. In fact, the goats’ handlers push
a padded horizontal barrier on wheels around the track in
order to keep the goats from grazing, fighting or running backwards during the
race. Still, the prize money available to the winning goat owners is no
laughing matter, totalling more than 30 million shillings.
Spectators can also bet on the goats for a
chance to win some cash of their own. Goats do a preview saunter around the
track so bettors can gauge potential performance, and a handy bettors’ guide describes
each goat’s abilities (last year, one goat’s tagline was “performance varies
according to how he spent his Friday night”.) Since neither the saunter nor the
tagline is likely to help beat the odds, bettors can rest easier knowing proceeds
go straight to local charities like the Kampala Kids League and Salama
School for the Blind.