Dakar Rally Organizers Confirm 2020 Move to Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Dakar organizers confirmed this year's rally was the last one to take place in South America after 11 successful years.

Vytautas Dranginis/Red Bull Content Pool

Dakar Rally organizers the Amaury Sport Organisation confirmed on Monday that the rally will be moving yet again to the Middle East, starting with a 2020 race in Saudi Arabia. The Dakar Rally moved from its 30-year home in Africa over threats made to the event and even canceled its 2008 race. The world-famous off-road race will be moving on after 11 years in South America after a difficult year where the rally could only make a deal to race in one country: Peru

Dakar Rally Director David Castera explained that the move will bring them new and unique landscapes to explore: 

Looking back at my first memories of the Dakar and my first experiences as a competitor, I’ve always considered that this rally like no other carried a concept of discovery, a voyage into the unknown. By going to Saudi Arabia, it is, of course, that aspect that fascinates me. I’m convinced that such a feeling will be shared by all the riders, drivers and copilots. As the director of the event, it’s a massive challenge to be faced with a blank page with limitless possibilities.

I’m already inspired and delighted to have to design a course in such a monumental geography, made for the most audacious itineraries. We are spoilt for choice. Sports, navigation, a will to surpass oneself: all these aspects will naturally be glorified on this territory made for rally-raids.

The Middle East already hosts several major international rallies and is generally enthusiastic about the sport. Several Dakar drivers and riders who have already been competing in South America, including 2019 Dakar winner Nasser Al-Attiyeh, are based in the region. 

The move is believed to be a five-year deal with Saudi Arabia worth $15 million per year, however, the ASO did not confirm these details yet. 

While this should bring the Dakar Rally some financial stability after last year's race, as we previously noted, it also makes them part of Saudi Arabia's gross plan to gloss over their poor human rights record with high-profile international events. Saudi Arabia knows you're not thinking as much about state-executed dissidents or the humanitarian crisis caused by the war Saudi Arabia is fighting in neighboring Yemen when you're watching sweet trucks jump. This is why sports are such a big part of its Vision 2030 plan to diversify the oil-heavy economy of Saudi Arabia and rehab its image internationally. 

Chairman of the Saudi Arabia General Sports Authority Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal Al Saud even name-checked this Vision 2030 plan in his comments in today's release: 

The vision and guidance of our leaders have made our dreams and ambitions limitless and have set the sports scene in the Kingdom on a remarkable success route. Today we are thrilled to announce that Rally Dakar, an event with a huge global appeal is coming to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Middle East for the first time. Our country is extremely passionate about sport and our strategic goal is to feed that appetite as we move further towards achieving Vision 2030, of which sport is a basic pillar.

In hosting Dakar Rally we aim to produce an unbelievable and unforgettable experience for drivers as they discover the beauty of Saudi nature and a unique spectacle for motorsport fans not only in Saudi Arabia but also in the region and around the world.

Other recent sporting events hosted by the country as part of its wider Vision 2030 plan include World Wrestling Entertainment, the World Boxing Super Series, an Italian Super Cup soccer match, European Tour golf, and Formula E, notes France24.

Further details on next year's Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia will be announced in an April 25 press conference.