Published on Wheels24.com: 11 January 2018
Between 1979 and 2007 the Dakar Rally took place in Europe and Africa, most regularly between Paris and Dakar (in Senegal). However, since the cancellation of the 2008 event, the Dakar has been held in South America.
Now, after a decade of success in South America, one has to ask whether the Dakar Rally will ever return to Africa – the legendary continent that stirred the imagination of the world for almost 30 years and gave ‘the Dakar’ its venerable reputation.
The Dakar in Africa
The holding of the Dakar Rally in Africa was never without controversy. It was often criticised for bringing little or no benefit to Africa and its inhabitants. A French newspaper called it a ‘vulgar display of power and wealth in places where men continue to die from hunger and thirst’; while others referred to it as ‘colonialism that needs to be eradicated’.
But, the defining moment came on December 24th 2007, when four French tourists were killed in Mauritania by members of a terrorist sleeper cell linked to al-Qaeda. The 2008 Dakar Rally was cancelled soon thereafter on January 4th with race organisers claiming that, over-and-above the attack, direct threats had been made against the event by al-Qaeda related organisations.
Regrettably, this sounded the death knell for the entire African continent’s hosting of the Dakar Rally, rather than West Africa alone. During 2008, a decision was taken to relocate the Dakar Rally to South America for safety and security reasons … and it has remained there ever since.
The Dakar in South America
Although South America has proven itself a worthy destination for the Dakar Rally, the time has surely come for the event to return to Africa. There’s just something not right about the ‘Dakar’ Rally being held anywhere other than on African soil.
It’s like the Tour de France being held in Australia, Wimbledon being held in Singapore, or the US Masters being held in Spain. Yes, these nations would likely host successful events, but they’d lack that sense of authenticity associated with them being held in their home nations.
In fact, there are instances of nations asking other nations to host events on their behalf due to terrorist concerns. One example is the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournament which was moved from India to South Africa in 2009 after the November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.
Importantly though, this was a once-off move made under extreme circumstances and, unlike the Dakar Rally, the IPL was moved straight back to India the year after and has been hosted there ever since.
Vote of no-confidence in Africa
The reality is that Africa has many regions that are both ideal and safe to host the Dakar Rally – Southern Africa being one of them in particular. Not only this, the event would take place in a similar time zone to Europe, boosting follower convenience and viewership.
So, what is the real reason behind the organisers’ decision not to bring the Dakar Rally back to Africa? To me, the continued hosting of the rally in South America constitutes a blatant ‘vote of no-confidence’ in Africa’s ability to host the event.
Afro-pessimism aside, we have to ask ourselves whether Southern African nations would even be interested in hosting the rally? Yes, there are environmental concerns related to carbon footprint and dust, but wouldn’t the unparalleled marketing of Africa’s natural wonders be a boon for the tourism sector and revenue for the host nations?
No doubt, the incredible vistas of South American landscapes including deserts, salt lakes and mountain ranges have attracted countless tourists to the region. Surely vistas of the Namib desert, Botswana’s wilderness and wildlife, Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls and South Africa’s magnificent coastline would attract potential visitors from around the world to come and explore these wonders for themselves.
Bring the Dakar Rally home
It must be said that for as long as the Dakar Rally is held in South America, it will remain but a shadow of its former glory. And therein lies an unexploited opportunity for the SADC to send a delegation to meet with the Dakar Rally’s organising committee and campaign for the Dakar to return home where it belongs … in Africa.
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