Saudi Arabia will continue to be the home of the Dakar Rally for the next few years with race director David Castera telling AFP “we still have so many deserts to explore”.
Castera was speaking after Saturday’s penultimate stage with Qatari Nasser Al-Attiyah poised for his fifth title.
“I’m very happy we’re staying here, with so many deserts still to explore and with this country’s enormous potential,” he said.
“Today there’s been a big change, it’s progressing at a fast rate,” commented Castera when asked about Saudi Arabia’s human rights issues.
“I’m not here to play politics but to organize a sporting event which has the legitimacy to exist here because the terrain suits it.”
“I think that Formula One, football, Extreme E, as well as the rest… Saudi Arabia has made a choice to open up via sport,” he said.
“Must we turn our back because not everything is as we wish it to be? I think that would be worse. This morning I was delighted to be beside a car with two women inside it, today I have two Saudi women at the start line of the Dakar,” he said. “You can debate the point [of being here], but I believe that bringing all these people here a few years ago would have been unthinkable.”
“There is the beginnings of an opening up of the country, and to turn one’s back on countries like these would see them turn in on themselves even more,” he added.