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DAKAR

ASO: "Nobody will be excluded from the Dakar in Saudi Arabia"

ASO: “Nadie se va a quedar fuera del Dakar en Arabia Saudí"

ERNESTO BENAVIDES

AFP

The organisers guaranteed there would be no problems after doubts were raised over the participation of last year's winner, the Qatari Al Attiyah, and women drivers and riders.

Saudi Arabia

The move to Saudi Arabia has not been entirely easy for the organisers of the Dakar rally. While the economic aspects have been solved, thanks to the petrodollars on offer, various other problems have arisen due to the situation of the new host country. However the organisers say they are entirely relaxed, and confirm they have all the guarantees required in place to ensure the 2020 edition of the endurance race goes ahead as planned.

The organisers, Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), would not be drawn on the precise details of the administrative and diplomatic solutions that will be applied to avoid any problems that might be foreseen, but confirmed that no potential participant would have any issues in entering the country to take part in the rally.

Alarm bells had been set ringing over the fact that last year's winner in the cars division, Nasser Al Attiyah, is from Saudi Arabia's neighbour Qatar, with the two countries involved in a serious diplomatic dispute and Saudi Arabia carrying out a blockade of their smaller neighbour since June 2017. There had been speculation that the driver, a cousin of the Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, would be unable to enter Saudi Arabia, due to the restrictions placed on Qatari nationals. However, according to the organisers, nothing could be further from the truth, with Nasser Al Attiyah in fact invited to the opening ceremony in Al-Qiddiya. "He was unable to come because he was taking part in a rally in Jordan", said rally director David Castera. "Nobody will be excluded from the Dakar. If that were the case, we wouldn't have come here", he said.

Women drivers and riders at Dakar 2020

The other doubt was over the situation of women drivers in a country where until recently women were banned from driving. "They've only asked us to wear long trousers, but there's no other issue with the women", said rider Laia Sanz, who did go on to say: "I wasn't sure how I should be dressed, and I was a bit worried about it, but the truth is I haven't had any problems".

In terms of logistics, race director Castera said: "We're going to have a lot of work, but we're not worried about the country, which has hosted Formula E, football, golf and Red Bull aviation competitions, so they are prepared. In fact the journey is shorter, because in 15 days we can bring the whole caravan here from France to Jeddah through the Suez Canal.

The deal to host the Dakar in Saudi Arabia is for five years, but the new rally boss also revealed that after 2021 the competition will also take place in other countries in the region, though he did not say which ones.