Some weeks ago, the news popped that the Dakar Rally will finally leave South America to discover other landscapes. Actually this was not totally “new” news, it has been expected for quite some time, and after the problems around the location of the 2019 edition it became clear that the organizers can’t and won’t be made hostages of the governments of South America one more time, no matter how huge the fan and participant base was in the region.
The southern tip of Africa was then returned to the news in first place, after some news and documentation had surfaced in Angola. This was not a new possibility because some years ago it already had been around, but now it showed up in more detail, with a possible route crossing Angola, Namibia and South Africa.
Other possibilities are also not new, like an eventual return to Algeria and Tunisia. But what really made the news was the very strong possibility of the 2020 edition of Dakar Rally could go to Saudi Arabia and spend the next five years there. Jordan and Egypt could join in this project, if not in the first “Arabian” edition, maybe in the later ones.
This week rumours returned strongly , with a “near confirmation” of the news we reported some weeks ago, about the change of location for the hardest rally of the world. From ASO, the organizer of Dakar Rally there is an almost complete black out, with an exception of the news of the change in the rally direction, that is now in the hands of David Castera, after the leaving of Etienne Lavigne.
The lack of official information about next year’s edition is a strong sign that something very serious is going on, otherwise the route should already have been announced. This gives credit to the news of the Saudi deal, that allegedly will mean a payment of USD 15 million per edition by Saudi Government to ASO during the next 5 years. Some bits of information that arrived to us tell that a team is already on the ground working on the route, which should not be a surprise, are they in Saudi Arabia or somewhere else, because the clock is running fast.
But our post pretends not to speak about the route details of the next edition, but more about the implications for the race and sports in a light way and with the necessary distance of someone who doesn’t have all the information.
After 10 editions in South America, the Dakar Rally had become the biggest sports event on the continent, no matter in which country it was held. It gave a huge boost to the local teams, that during this time had the possibility to enter, and gradually replaced the Europeans, especially the amateurs with less resources. We are curious to see if the organizers now arrange a scheme to bring the South Americans to the Middle East like they did for the Europeans to go to South America, or if they will leave them alone after they had become an important “life line” to the rally.
Dakar also leaves behind a continent that offers the most varied types of terrain, from the deserts of Peru and Chile (remember the descent of Iquique or the huge Peruvian dunes), across the Bolivian Altiplano and the amazing Salar de Uyuni, and into Argentina where so many amazing sceneries where showed to us like the majestic white dunes of Fiambala.
Common in all countries of South America was the amazing fan base, that supported the rally all along the way like nowhere else. The more “purist” of the sport will say that Dakar should mean isolation and separation… could be, but the security feeling is something that is not easy to achieve in our times, and it is a very big issue that was under control in South America.
Finally, Dakar leaves behind a politically instable region, where politicians change their minds faster than we can count until ten. What is true and valid now, is not anymore after just a short time. And from a point of view of an organizer with such a big responsibility, this can’t be viable, due to uncertainty that it adds to the equation.
The pros and the cons of South America are much likely to be a part of the past now, and the 1001 sand dunes of Saudi Arabia could be on the path of the participants of the hardest rally of the world.
But like a desert, 2020 Dakar and the following ones, will not be a paved road. Some very complicated challenges, specially cultural and political will need to be handled with extreme care.
We aren’t being discriminative, not at all. We wish an amazing rally, but we can’t hide the elephant in the room. It’s no secret to anyone that there is a huge cultural gap between a not only the occidentals, but also others and the Saudis, and this can raise some complicated questions to a big part of the participants or people involved into the rally. Many details must be taken into account by all parties involved, even us as media who report about the rally, to guarantee that the race respects the locals, but also to make the locals understand their visitors and accept them, even if they are different or have different habits.
It’s clear that such a big investment on the rally means that Saudi government wants to show an open and modern country, that is following a path of reforms and pretends to have become more open to the rest of the world.
We are still curious to see how the political struggles in the region will play on all of this. Especially if the “complicated” relations with Qatar can cause problems for a number of competitors, including the defending champion , in extreme (and hopefully extremely unlikely) case even forcing him out of the race, being banned from entering Saudi Arabia.
On a more positive note, Saudi Arabia could mean a particularly good opportunity for the rally to put an end to comments that say that it had lost great part of the “elan” it had before moving to South America.
Saudi Arabia is an “uncharted” territory for the rally and for almost all of us. The vastness of the country offers so many new possibilities for routes that the guys in charge of the roadbook should feel like kids in a playground full of new toys. And if we add Egypt and Jordan to the equation then things will become even more interesting. The desert lovers will have plenty to enjoy in the region, and can forget about the rally roads of Argentina, the cold mountains of Bolivia, or the dusty dunes of Peru.
The “Arabian” deal also means a pretty nice income of dollars by ASO. The critics will now jump fast telling that the organizers only care about the money they can make. We don’t follow this path, because we do understand that ultimately the Dakar is a business, and as a business it should make money. But what we do hope is that this huge “oxygen balloon” could be used to raise the profile of the race, helping more people to enter, offering better conditions and specially lowering the entry fees, that are prohibitively high and leave many out.
For the participants, especially Europeans, the Middle East seems to be more accessible than South America. Much likely the costs for the teams will be lower, due to the much likely government support, and the visas and transfers could also be facilitated. And we must not forget that in the region there are a lot of rally drivers, many of them very well equipped, and they could be waiting for a chance to race the Dakar. We expect this to materialize in an increase of the number of participants, for luse losing many South American, but gaining in teams from the Middle East.
Before finishing our post we want to say again, that until now, there is no official announcement from ASO about the location for 2020 Dakar yet. For the moment we can only speculate, and until ASO finally revealls their plans everything can happen. Who knows if the rally goes somewhere else or if it remains in South America.
Despite all the problems the Dakar Rally suffered in the past editions, it still is the race almost everyone wishes to enter at least once but this is a feeling that is or at least was disappearing for several known reasons. The relocation of the rally could show up as an extremely good opportunity to recover at least part of what was lost and can help to rebuild the image of the event as the last of the greatest challenges a sportsman or sportswoman could dream to tackle.
As for us, we simply wish for a great race, in Saudi Arabia, in South America, in the Sahara or even in the Antartica.
The Rally-Raid Network