Saudi Arabia is gearing up to host Asia's first-ever Dakar Rally in a 12-day long event set to take place in January 2020. Earlier this week, registration for the event was officially launched as contestants are set to apply from all over the world.
The event, which will launch on Jan. 5, marks the first time a Dakar Rally is held in the Asian continent and, specifically, in an Arab country. This comes after a 30-year-monopoly by the African continent and South America. Dakar Rally - a motorbike, trail-blazers, and other vehicles race - was first launched in 1978 by French racer Thierry Sabine and has been growing fans and participants since.
Those participating in the race will start their journey in Jeddah on specially modified automobiles and motorcycles. The challenge covers thousands of kilometers and goes on over 10 stages that spread through cities and project areas including NEOM — the City of the Future, "situated in the extreme northwest of Saudi Arabia on an area of 26,500 sq. km. with a seafront extending for 460 km."
The participants will also pass along the Red Sea coast and drive through the kingdom's Red Sea Project, an area encompassing 90 islands. They'll then move ahead towards Riyadh before heading to Qiddiya, which has been "deemed a future entertainment center."
In a statement on the matter, the chairman of the General Sports Authority (GSA) Prince Abdulaziz Bin Turki Al-Faisal said the event will help highlight the kingdom's most scenic areas.
"The agreement to host the most difficult race in the world, the Dakar Rally, for many years, is nothing but a confirmation of the Kingdom's welcome to the world to see the beautiful sceneries, cities throbbing with life and vast deserts where the sand dunes meet the sea. The world will get acquainted with the Kingdom's rich history, the qualitative transformation it is witnessing and the its friendly and generous people," he said.
The royal added that the Rally will reflect a "real image" of the kingdom and show the world that it's ready to compete against the most powerful countries in the world at all levels and industries. Prince Khaled Bin Sultan Al-Faisal, chairman of the Saudi Federation for Automobiles and Motorcycles (SFAM), also spoke out about the ongoing preparations for the event, saying:
"By unifying our efforts, we've been able to host such a rally, and coordinate with the Saudi Red Crescent Authority, Civil Defense, security agencies and municipalities on the route of the rally, and the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) so that the Saudi Dakar Rally 2020 achieves success of international standards."
Saudi Arabia is working hard on developing its sports sector
The country has gotten pretty serious about developing its sports sector and industry in the past few months. Just last week, it was reported that the kingdom held meetings in 2018 with top basketball players and sports managers in the U.S. to learn more about strengthening the sector.
Under Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030, the sports sector has seen major improvements in recent years. The ambitious blueprint has also been centered on supporting Saudi women in sports.
In July, GSA announced that the country will be providing a $650-million-boost to the sector. Officials said the financial and governance strategy is designed to encourage sports clubs to diversify "practices and commit to the highest standards of governance."
In a bid to popularize sporting events, the country announced last year it will begin offering electronic visas for foreign visitors who wish to attend sporting events. In December, the kingdom launched the visa service for visitors for the motoring event Formula E and saw 1,000 tourists from 80 countries land in the kingdom.