|Dakar Rally - Logo courtesy of www.dakar.com|
While in its former state, it was a favourite hangout for European and sometimes Asian drivers out for an African adventure as well as a testing ground for car manufacturers for their off-road contraptions. Its combination of the four wheelers and the motorbikes make it quite the ultimate adrenaline kick for any rallying or speed buff.
Now as indicated in 2009, the organisers Amaury Sports Organisation invited bids for interested countries to host the race. This ended up falling to the South American comrades in Argentina, Chile and Peru. It was a perfect fit for the race since there is a combination of the terrain that is similar to what was experienced driving and riding through the Sahara desert and the French countryside. Except there is no famous crossing like there was on the Mediterranean Sea.
The main observation though as seen in previous posts in about rallying in Africa is the fact that world rallying bodies seem to have lost patience and attraction with the continent in the sport. As we write this, there is no African rally on the World Rally Championship for the 11th year running ( the Safari Rally was the last African escapade after the Rallye Cote'de Ivoire was dropped in 1992. The Paris-Dakar was the only other bigger rallying event that traversed African roads until 'we gladly let it drive away'
Some of the factors of the loss of the interests by major car manufacturers and rally organisers is the fact that running a rally has become extremely expensive - from the crew working on the cars, to the fuel and spare parts involved. African governing authorities have also not seen the need to get directly involved in these events and instead institute tax and other major barriers to the event. It might also be said that the fact that most of the rallies originated from the colonial days meant that there was declining investment by the locals in the sport.
More recently though has been the fact that stringent sponsorship measures have meant reduced targets for overall sponsorships - e.g. the banning of tobacco advertising in the 1990s meant that the Safari Rally quickly seeking new overall title sponsors who would bankroll the event.
We have also seen major car manufacturers jump into the sport only to be driven out by the heavy expenses in hopping around the continents of the world. The latest exits saw the Mini ( after only 2 years ) and Ford (from 1992) world rally teams replaced by Hyundai and Volkswagen respectively.
Another factor that has seen Africa lose out is the fact that there are few media organisations that are willing to take up the costs of covering and airing the WRC rallies. With every sport increasingly turning to the silver screen for major advertising revenue and the exclusive rights, the world of rallying had no option but to follow suit. Except for SuperSport through its mother company Multichoice, there is no big media company that would be able to carry the events with continental reach and a tidy sum for that.
And so as the continent continues attracting investments of an economic nature, it is imperative for the governments and sports authorities to look out for added value opportunities such as sports events provide. Of course, there is need to involve locals and potential sponsors in what the events would bring for them in terms of visibility, uniqueness and exposure to the rest of the world.
But until then, Africa will remain a forlorn relic in the world of rallying.
For more on The Dakar Rally go to www.dakar.com and you can also check this blog www.thedakar.blogspot.com