Dakar faces cancellation as Saudi Arabia shuts borders

Plans for 2021 Dakar Rally put into jeopardy less than two weeks before rally start

Dakar 2021 – Recce

January’s Dakar Rally is thought to be under threat by revised Saudi Arabian government policy which could limit the movement of people into the country early in the new year.

DirtFish sources have indicated a decision will come from the organizer Amaury Sport Organisation as early as Monday evening.

The event is scheduled to start on Sunday, January 3, but some teams and much of the ASO organizing team will be arriving into the country a week ahead of that opening day of competition.

To date, Saudi Arabia has suffered little more than 6000 COVID-19-related deaths since the pandemic began, and senior figures there are keen to avoid exposing the population to a significant influx of competitors and organizers from around the world.

Saudi Arabia’s Press Agency announced on Monday morning that “all international flights for travelers, except in exceptional cases,” would be suspended for one week, with an option to extend this ban for a further week thereafter.

Land borders and ports are also covered by the ban.

03/12/2020 - Dakar 2021 - Boarding at Marseille

Photo: ASO / Nicolas Prado

One source within the teams said: “From what we can see there is some concern about people coming from Europe after being together for the Christmas vacation and bringing with them the virus to a part of the world which is quite protected.

“Already it’s looking difficult now to move from some places in Europe where the lockdown is coming again.

“Look at the UK right now and borders are being closed down to come out of London. With things as they are, it’s not looking so positive.”

Despite the new restrictions, ASO has not given up on running the event next January and is currently looking at ways for the rally to continue.

For the first time since its inception in 1978, Dakar was canceled in 2008, following security concerns on a section of the route through Mauritania.

It was that cancellation that led to the event’s shift from Africa to South America in 2009.

This is the second year Dakar has run in Saudi Arabia.