Emirates Melbourne Cup – the racism that stops a nation

Emirates Melbourne Cup Day is described as

Emirates Melbourne Cup“an exhilarating day that puts Australia firmly in the international sporting spotlight…the greatest thoroughbreds from around the world descend upon Flemington to battle it out for a chance at the $6.2 million in prize money and to cement their names into history… It is the day to make your strongest fashion statement with an exotic or outrageous ensemble.

As the jewel in the Melbourne Cup Carnival crown, this iconic day is a heady mix of revelry embraced by local and international visitors set to enjoy spectacular racing, fashion and exquisite hospitality and entertainment, making it an unmissable sporting and cultural event.”

We associate Cup Day with glamour and fun. But many Australians who celebrate this event seem unaware that behind the glitz, Dubai is a dark place:

Australians travelling through Dubai have been warned they are at risk of fines or jail for cultural misdemeanours as simple as holding hands in public, swearing, harassing women with a prolonged stare or wearing inappropriate clothing.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade warns on its website that de facto relationships, homosexual relationships and acts of adultery and prostitution are subject to severe punishment.

”It is also against the law in the UAE to share the same hotel room with someone of the opposite sex to whom you are not married or closely related.”

Drinking in public or being drunk in public is another offence that can land travellers in strife. Australian travellers of Jewish background who are Israeli passport holders can only transit through Dubai and are not allowed to leave the airport because the UAE is a participant in the Arab League boycott of Israel.

When it was announced in 2012 that Qantas were going into partnership with Emirates airlines, lawyer Andrew Hamilton, who works for the Shurat Ha Din /Israel Law center, wrote to Qantas expressing concern for the human rights of travellers passing through Dubai:

“I act for a human rights organisation concerned with the abuse of the human rights of citizens of democratic countries by non-democratic countries and related organisations. I refer to Qantas Airways new global partnership with Emirates and the proposed change of Qantas’ hub for European flights from Singapore to Dubai, UAE in April 2013.

I also refer to recent media reports of the arrest and summary imprisonment of Professor Cyril Karabus, a 78 year old internationally respected doctor specialising in paediatrics and medical oncology …

Ten years ago, while working on a short term contract at the Sheikh Khalifa Medical Centre in Abu Dhabi in the UAE, Professor Karabus treated a three-year-old cancer patient who later died of leukaemia. Professor Karabus later returned to his home in South Africa and continued his medical practice there.

At some point after Professor Karabus’s departure from the UAE, without any notice to Professor Karabus, the UAE authorities decided to charge, try and convict Professor Karabus of manslaughter in absentia without his knowledge and without any opportunity for him to present his case. On 18 August 2012 it arrested him while he was in transit in Dubai airport flying from Canada to South Africa returning from his son’s wedding.

People need to understand that the UAE, while it might seem modern, does not share our values or our rule of law, and many activities which Aussies take for granted are serious crimes in the UAE. For instance, recently an Australian woman was gaoled for adultery in the UAE after reporting her rape to the  police, one in a string of such cases

Hamilton said:

Qantas has an obligation to not engage in misleading and deceptive conduct by silence as to the risks of transiting via the UAE…
Furthermore, any general marketing and branding of the UAE as a modern, sophisticated, western style destination will itself be misleading and deceptive if it fails to draw attention to the very un-western system of laws and a justice system that does not respect basic human rights.

The UAE is a member of the OIC, which has rejected the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in place of the Cairo Declaration, which makes any law and human rights subject to sharia law.

And why would Qantas knowingly send passengers to a place that breaches Australian anti-discrimination laws?

Many Australian charities, unions, the Uniting Church and NGOs like Oxfam are rightly incensed when workers in third world countries like Bangladesh, from whom Australian companies buy clothing, are subjected to horrific working conditions and even lose their lives. Yet they seem able to ignore the horrific racism in Dubai and the working conditions for their migrant workers.

Someone with knowledge of this racism is blogger Brian of London, who made aliyah from the UK to Israel in 2009:

I was born in an openly racist country. My birth certificate is careful to note I was born as “Race: White”. I left South Africa soon after birth and I no longer hold their passport having renounced my citizenship.

Today I hold an Israeli and a British passport. As such, if I tried to enter the city of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates even with my British passport, I would be turned away. Israelis are not allowed in.

Dubai is a racist state. Obviously, I’m Israeli by choice, but many millions of people are Israeli by birth and, therefore, barred from entry to this supposedly “progressive” and “liberal” Arab Muslim Emirate.

So if you’re going to hold some sort of open, international conference, sporting event or award ceremony you need to realise you are enforcing upon your visitors the racist policies of the UAE.

In highly exceptional circumstances, after diplomatic and commercial pressure at state levels, the UAE can be persuaded to allow an individual Israeli in. In 2009 the World Tennis Association was fined $300,000 after the UAE failed to grant Israeli player Shahar Peer a visa to travel to the Dubai Tennis Championships. One year later they did manage to get her in to the country.

Earlier this year even a UK Premier League football club discovered one of their star players was banned from a UAE training camp for the crime of being born in Israel. Swansea City striker Itay Shechter stayed behind because of UAE racism.

Now the latest: the International Federation of Television Archives decided to hold it’s annual award ceremony in racist Dubai. And then, of all the dumb luck, realised one of the potential recipients of an award is an Israeli film with an Israeli directory!

The IFTA has tried it’s best to make out as if the director is too busy to come, and they’ve tried hiding behind the racist entry visa requirements of Dubai, but they’ve made it clear that participants in the event are on their own and will receive no help getting a visa:

So here’s the deal. If you hold a major event in Dubai you, your sponsors and your other participants are excluding Israelis (and by Israelis we mostly mean Israeli Jews).

If your organisation is based in Australia, as a forthcoming case may well prove, you might even be committing an actual crime!

Despite the reality, many are sucked in by Emirates’ brilliant marketing:

This year, Emirates’ renowned Marquee at the Melbourne Cup Carnival has been inspired by the east meets west city hub and cosmopolitan travel destination, Dubai.

Dubai is known as both the Pearl of the East and the City of the Future. In 2013, the Principal Partner of the Emirates Melbourne Cup will take guests on a cultural journey through its home city at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne, Australia.

Tim Clark, President Emirates Airline said the 2013 Melbourne Cup Carnival will highlight the many aspects of Dubai to an Australian audience, from the rich culture and tradition of the Al Fahidi Fort to the modern Burj Al Arab.

“With more and more Australians visiting and enjoying Dubai as a destination in its own right, and as a perfect stop over en-route to more than 130 Emirates destinations around the world… there is no better time to celebrate Dubai as the theme for the Emirates Marquee.”

Seamlessly blending a colour palette of the warm ochre of the Dubai desert and traditional architecture, with the red, gold and white synonymous with Emirati culture, the Marquee will deliver an unparalleled experience for guests.

Already the birdcage’s largest and most impressive, the Emirates Marquee facade, featuring traditional wind towers, will stand a nine metres from the ground…The exterior will echo the traditional architecture of Dubai’s historic buildings, while inside guests will experience an exciting blend of old and new, featuring fabrics, furnishings and décor that have been sourced direct from Dubai marketplaces.

Emirates will celebrate two milestones at the 2013 Melbourne Cup Carnival including the 16th year of Emirates’ involvement with the Victoria Racing Club and 10 years as Principal Partner of the Emirates Melbourne Cup.


Many socialites flock to the Emirates Melbourne Cup, including Lillian Frank, who is Jewish. Maybe they should examine their consciences and reconsider supporting a country which treats its migrant workers shamefully and breaches civilized norms in its homophobia, misogyny, racism and antisemitism.

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  1. Whenever I see someone (usually male) wearing an EMIRATES t-shirt, I feel like going up to them and saying “do you know you’re providing free advertising for a mysogenistic country that denies women equal rights, bans homosexuality, denies freedom of speech, flouts all aspects of human rights and totally gets away with it?!”

  2. I have to say, this is a terrific piece, Pam.

    I am a little unclear what Cup Day is exactly. Is it sort-of the Australian Kentucky Derby?

    {At which point, were I you, I would respond with, “What the heck is the Kentucky Derby?”}


    You raise a very interesting ethical question, tho. Given the fact that the United Arab Emirates is a Sharia-ruled state, and thus has no sense of social justice whatsoever, should Qantas deliver Australians into the hands of people who might do them harm?

    I love ethical dilemmas like this, particularly when I do not know the answer to the question.

    If Qantas were to eliminate Dubai from service, do you think that Australia should end all diplomatic relations with the country? Should it be boycotted by Australians, in general?


    Your question goes to the very core of how western countries should respond to Sharia countries.

    You have asked the central question.

    I wish that I had an answer for you.

    • Michael, as I have previously stated Americans are every insular.

      Of course we know what the Kentucky Derby is. The same as we know the Hong Kong cup, Auckland Cup, Ascot Gold Cup, Epsom Derby and the Doncaster Cup, which is the oldest horse race in the world BTW.

      The Melbourne Cup, which of late has become the Emirates Cap, is claimed as the ‘race that stops a nation’. Totally meshiga, I have no idea what the fuss is about.

      I doubt very few people care about the fact that QANTAS hubs in Dubai.

      Before airlines were permitted to fly over Soviet air space, the flights to Europe were much longer, plus I supposed the aircraft didn’t have the ability to stay aloft for so long. That necessitated at least three refuelling stops, one was always in the ME. Consequently I have been to Bahrain, Dubai & Muscat/Oman. They were worst than 3rd world.

      I can so clearly remember the filthy hovel that Bahrain airport was the first time we stopped there in 1976. My children, aged 8 and 9 at the time, were terrified of the security guards in their robes, headdresses and bearing huge rifles. They were searching everyone and my daughter was screaming.

      There were people sleeping on the floors everywhere, especially in the toilets (washroom to you). There were no cubicles just one large area, with holes in the ground for toilets and women laying right next to them in the pish. The smell was unbearable and we decided to ‘hold on’

    • If it wasn’t for money & oil Michael, perhaps the West would boycott Arab countries. There you have it.

    • Thank you so much Michael. I’d never heard of the Melbourne Cup before I migrated to Australia in 1987, and was surprised to find out that everything came to a virtual halt for a horse race.

      I agree that it’s an important ethical question, and one which few people in Australia think about, because Emirates logos dominate sporting events and they have done of marvellous marketing job, making people think they are modern and civilised, when they are not. In fact, the emblem for the Emirates Cup Day is a yellow rose, which will be on sale and symbolises joy. Not much joy for many in UAE! Propaganda is very effective, and very few would stop to think what is behind the enticing exterior.

      “Given the fact that the United Arab Emirates is a Sharia-ruled state, and thus has no sense of social justice whatsoever, should Qantas deliver Australians into the hands of people who might do them harm?” Very good question. My answer would be a resounding NO – unless it was made very clear to the public the risks they were taking. Instead, the Government issues a vague general warning, when I believe that all adverts for Emirates flights should carry a warning that they are governed by sharia, which could seriously damage your health. A bit like the warning on cigarette packets.