Can the Dakar Rally return to its African country?

by MMC
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One of the biggest and most grueling motor sports has been the iconic Paris-Dakar Rally, but following problems on the route the rally is now held exclusively in Saudi Arabia – although the title brand has been retained . Gus Anyim assess what this loss means for the continent and whether the rally can be reintegrated into its natural African habitat.

On January 19, the last competitor crossed the sand dunes of Saudi Arabia to finish the 46th Dakar Rally. 2024, the fifth year of the race since it was moved from its original location in Africa to the Middle East.

The event, originally called Paris-Dakar, was one of the most difficult and adventurous rallies in the world. It included a range of vehicles, trucks, motorcycles and cars traveling from Paris across the Sahara and arriving in Dakar, Senegal.

The heavily modified vehicles, which had to endure some of the worst driving conditions in the world, including shaking and suspension-destroying roads, dangerous sand dunes, high daytime temperatures and freezing winds at night, were the last word in of adventure, courage and determination.

He was also very photogenic and attracted millions of television viewers and radio listeners around the world. Dozens of journalists and support vehicles followed the race through inhospitable terrain.

Frenchman Thierry Sabine founded the event after getting lost during a Côte-Côte rally (Nice-France to Abidjan-Côte d’Ivoire). Participants will travel from Paris to the southern coast of France before crossing into Algeria in North Africa.

Over time, organizers have chosen different crossing points from Europe, while passing through the countries of Northwest Africa. Finally the rally stopped on a route through Morocco, Mauritania, Western Sahara and finally Dakar (Senegal).

The 1992 edition was very special: the organizers decided to extend the route to Cape Town. This would open up very varied landscapes as the rally proceeded south, from deserts, to tropical rainforests, through savannah grasslands, through the mountains and finally to Cape Town. It took place to mark the country’s transition from apartheid to full democracy with the release of Nelson Mandela from prison.

The event brought unprecedented global attention to Africa as a journalist, including New African Editor-in-chief Anver Versi fills in daily reports on the different countries visited and illustrates the people and lifestyles encountered along the way.

That all changed in 2008 when the rally was canceled following the murder of four French tourists in Mauritania, at a time when anti-Western sentiments were rising. The stark contrast between the huge sums spent on what many Africans saw as a “silly rich man’s sport” and the crushing poverty in many of the countries the rally passed through also gave rise to a generally negative view of the rally. event.

Nevertheless, the brand became so famous and the event attracted such a large television audience and provided superb publicity for various automakers that organizers moved the event to Chile, Peru and Argentina in South America from 2010 to 2020, when the event was moved to Saudi Arabia. Arabia.

Although the rally has now become confined to the desert realm, with a grueling route stretching from the desert in the west of the country to Yanbu in the east, it has retained its Dakar Rally brand.

Interestingly, even though Africa lost this iconic rally, Senegal participated in a new form of motorsport – Extreme E, in which electric SUVs race in selected locations to raise awareness of aspects of change climate and to provide social and environmental support to these places.

Senegal was the location of the first event in 2021 to draw attention to the salt-rich Lac Rose, often the finishing point of the original Paris-Dakar rally. With Formula 1 champions such as Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg sponsoring their own teams, the event was a huge success.

Despite the controversy generated by such events, notably the Paris-Dakar, there is no doubt that their absence has left a widely felt void. They brought a sense of adventure and excitement to the annual calendar, focused the world’s attention on a positive side of the continent and allowed locals to have front row seats at world spectacles.

Business Benefits

Before the Paris-Dakar, another rally on the other side of the continent, the East African Safari which crosses three countries (Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania) during the Easter holidays, was in the spotlight with drivers and international teams competing in what was then the most grueling race in the world.

It then became Kenya’s confined Safari Rally when the country’s neighbors withdrew their participation and lost some of its kudos, but it continues to take place annually and attract much local attention – and participation as teams and drivers.

In addition, there was the Ivory Coast rally, the Kilimanjaro 1000, etc.

The question is whether Africa has lost the benefits of the multiplier effect – the direct and indirect gains from hosting events such as the Olympics, the World Cup and international gatherings?

For example, the 2024 Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia received information and broadcasts in 190 countries and 70 channels. 560 accredited media representatives provided coverage of the event, with seven million followers interacting on Dakar’s social media platforms. 2023 advertising was valued at $114 million, with the economic multiplier from supporting the event generating much more.

Millions of dollars in sponsorship also followed the event, which is now one of the main partners.

Peru, host of the 2019 gathering, estimates the economic impact at more than $130 million, including $300 million in media value for the country. The commercial value of the current Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia probably exceeds that.

Rather than a direct comparison with the African series. Perhaps the current Dakar Rally (Saudi Arabia) offers an idea of ​​the event’s potential to attract and nurture investment.

The rich history of racing in Africa

Although the official Dakar Rally may have been permanently moved to the deserts of Saudi Arabia. Extreme E could still return to Senegal. But for rally purists, Africa has never lost its wild charm or irresistible challenge.

Two organized Dakar races, The Africa Eco Race and The Real Way to Dakar, remain faithful to the original series. Starting from Monaco and Paris (France) respectively, the two races take adrenaline-fueled competitors through Morocco, Mauritania, Western Sahara and Senegal.

The larger of the two is , generating global coverage in 153 countries, on 101 channels spanning five continents. Impressive figures, even if it is not the biggest rally on the continent.

In its 2021 racing calendar, motorsport governing body FIA has reinstated Kenya – the Safari Rally, to the World Rally Championship (WRC). This followed adverse findings from the FIA ​​on financial support and safety issues.

The WRC benefits from a TV audience of 841 million (2022), 6.87 million followers on social media and 473 million video views. This reach was also reflected in the findings of the Kenya Institute of Tourism and Research, which assessed the impact of the gathering. A net economic benefit to the country was recorded, while supporting 24,758 jobs.

The African Rally Championship, another series governed by the FIA, features additional rallies in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Rwanda and Burundi.

Specialized meetings continue to delight racing enthusiasts. Relaunched in 2003 and paying homage to the original 1953 race, this Kenya classic car rally has seen a resurgence in popularity, demonstrating a healthy appetite for motorsport in Africa.

Future prospects

The ability to host any international sporting event comes at a cost. Race organizers’ commercial considerations often trump nostalgia and tradition. Formats need to be refreshed and competing hosts emerge.

The Dakar Rally is no different. As F1 (WRC) promoters can attest: without a government willing to cover the cost of accommodation, the bid is likely to fail.

African governments can point to the remnants of overspending related to the South Africa World Cup, although taken in isolation this perhaps misses the point about how investment should be viewed from overall manner.

A pioneer, the Africa Eco Race has included community projects in its identity, with a solar energy infrastructure in Nouakchott (Mauritania). Extreme E, under its slogan “race for the planet”, has gone further by planting planned plantations, alongside educational programs in Senegal.

Investments in existing projects and community infrastructure can be key to inspiring a new generation. Factors that a facilitating organization such as the should take into account.

A choice is looming for the official race. Completely sever association with Dakar and Africa or take significant steps to reintegrate Africa into the event.

Either path could see Africa receive a new motorsport-focused boost – one that would include a more ambitious and far-reaching set of legacy projects. Governments’ desire to revive Africa as an off-road racing destination will play a central role. An opportunity presents itself.

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