Written by Fadia Daaboul
Translated by Assaad Maalouf
A hundred year passed since the establishment of the horse race field that survived despite all the hard circumstances, especially WW1 and WW2, as well as the Lebanese war.
Beirut Governor, Judge Ziad Chebib, announced that a ceremony will be held to mark the first centenary of the field in 2016, saying that the occasion will shed light on finding the best means to let all citizens benefit from the vast green area of the field.
On December 5, 2015, the field was established, when Beirut municipality granted Alfred Moussa Sursok a franchise to invest the area as a horse race field 40 years. A contract was signed in this regard that constituted the conditions of transferring the field into a public park and forming out sports clubs, horse racing and gardens.
Amidst the French mandate, the Higher French Commission signed on September 28, 1921, a contract with Alfred Sursok to concede down his total rights concerning the area which was priced for selling at 1875000 French Franc amount despite the fact that Sursok didn’t own the field. On May 25, 1927, an agreement was set between Sursok’s widow and head of Beirut municipality in favor of returning the field’s property to the municipality and extending the date of the franchise term to 10 years. Thereupon, a law for organizing horse race and gambling was issued on March 5, 1932.
The race fields in Beirut used to be officially known as Hippodrome de Parc de Beyrouth. Over 700 horses used to be trained on a daily basis from dawn till 08:30 am. Later, the place will be opened for the audience. Races are conducted on a weekly basis all round the year at a rate of 10 to 12 horses in one race. Races take place Sundays and people label such races as ceremonies which attract crowds of gamblers. Races are also conducted Saturdays in July and August.
However, race fields are in need for amelioration in order to attract the Arabs to bring their horses to the Lebanese race field. Concerned people in the field asked the state and municipality to put terms to the contraventions and violations occurring in the field and to support the horse race sector.
The important reasons for the backward move of the race field in Lebanon is the absence of confidence and of a plan for improving the field in a way that best serves the public benefit.
Thereupon one can wonder: What are the plans presented to improve the field and rehabilitate it for the upcoming years? What are the future projects prone to increase the inflow of revenues serving the public benefit? Is the field going to become a public park in the 21st century to include sports clubs and public gardens, alongside with the field?