Saudi Arabia could be the new home of the Dakar Rally, with reports suggesting the race’s organisers have signed a deal to move the motorsport event to the Middle East from 2020.
Amaury Sport Organisation, who host the rally, have yet to announce or confirm the move, but according to Autosport an agreement has been signed with Saudi Arabia to host the next five races.
The Dakar Rally has been held in South America since 2009, but economic problems and difficulties with hosting agreements have pushed ASO to look for alternative hosts.
Nasser Al-Attiyah, who won his third Dakar Rally title in January, said: “The plan seems to be a 100 percent year in Saudi Arabia and then try to go to other countries like Oman, Jordan or Egypt.”
🎤 Listen to Nasser Al-Attiyah 🇶🇦 reaction after winning the Afriquia Merzouga Rally on the SxS category…#Merzouga2019 | @AlAttiyahN pic.twitter.com/G0P87yKhVD
— Afriquia Merzouga Rally (@MerzougaRally) April 5, 2019
The rally was first held between Paris and Dakar in 1979, but the 2008 race was called off due to terrorism fears, prompting the event to be held in South America from 2009 onwards.
Qatari racer Al-Attiyah continued: “We are very happy to have the Dakar in our region. I can be in Saudi Arabia in 30 minutes. We love South America, the people there, the incredible countries they have, but we have to respect the decisions of the organisers.
“Like when we changed from Africa to South America, we were not happy, we wanted to continue there, but we quickly adapted to South America, exactly the same thing that will happen with the Middle East, because it is a big market too.”
If the move is confirmed it will mark the next step in Saudi Arabia’s entry into motorsport hosting, despite ongoing pressure in some sports to boycott the country for humanitarian reasons.
Nevertheless the country hosted the Middle East’s first Formula E race in December and the Race of Champions in February 2018.
[…] In 2020, the Dakar Rally will take drivers past NEOM to showcase the landscape in what will be the first major sporting spectacle to arrive. It is unlikely to be the last. […]