The official Dakar Rally homepage bears bleak news today - after a year’s preparation and planning for this monolithic off-road event by organisers and competitors alike, the 2008 event has been cancelled. Finishing or even contesting the Dakar rally is the Everest of dirt riding; a lifelong dream for many of the amateur and professional racers that risk their lives to compete each year in the Saharan dunes.
After the murder of four French tourists in Maghreb just before Christmas, and a number of direct threats the Dakar committee received from Islamic terrorist groups in the region, the decision was made to cancel this year’s event, as “security… will never be a subject of compromise at the heart of the Dakar rally.”
There’s no question the Dakar carnival, consisting of over 3,000 people including around 550 competitors in the car, truck and motorcycle race categories, would make a big target for desert-based terror cells - and the open and exposed nature of the race would make it very difficult to provide protection for the competitors. But it’s also certain that the economic impact of cancelling the event will be crippling for many of the areas the race was to visit.
The threats were mainly around Mauritania, and related to an Algerian-based Al-Qaida “sleeper cell” group. With eight Dakar stages planned in the small country, the Mauritanian government offered a 3,000-man security force to allay organisers’ fears but evidently that was not enough.
The event has been criticised by locals as a vulgar display of first-world western excess that treats Africa as an extended sporting ground, the vast expense of the vehicles themselves in stark contrast to the poverty around them. There have also been locals and livestock killed by competitors as they thunder through the desert, often blinded by the dust and sand.
It’s the event’s first cancellation in 30 years, and it seems the event may never be the same. It looks likely it will be moved to sub-saharan Africa where the organisers hope they can provide “a new adventure to all the off-road rally passionate.” It’s a sad day for racing fans, sure, but think of the poor competitors who were informed of the cancellation as they waited in Lisbon today for tomorrow’s start.You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.