LONDON: The Dakar Rally will be held in Saudi Arabia from 2020, organizers announced Monday, offering contestants an "unknown landscape and uncharted terrain".
"After 30 years of discovering the beauty of Africa and a decade of adventure exploring the spectacular landscape of South America, a new chapter in the history of Dakar will be written as the world's biggest rally makes its Middle East debut in Saudi Arabia," ASO said in a statement.
The Dakar has been held in South America since 2009. The gruelling multi-stage rally was previously held in Africa but was relocated after terrorist threats in Mauritania in 2008.
Dakar director David Castera described the relocation to Saudi Arabia as "a voyage into the unknown."
years in Africa.— DAKAR RALLY (@dakar) April 15, 2019
years in South America.
The third chapter in the history of Dakar Rally is opening now… moving to the Middle East.
Next Dakar will be held in Saudi Arabia
More details about this adventure will be announced on the 25th of April…#Dakar2020 pic.twitter.com/XDzhfvEbDW
"By going to Saudi Arabia, it is of course that aspect that fascinates me," Castera said.
"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."
Castera said Saudi Arabia offered up "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."
Saudi Arabia's Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, Chairman of the Saudi General Sports Authority, said: “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.”
Chairman of the Saudi Arabian motor federation Prince Khalid Bin Sultan Abdullah Al-Faisal added: “I have always wanted to participate in Dakar Rally. While I wasn’t fortunate to achieve that ambition, I’m now part of achieving a much bigger dream for my country as Dakar comes to the Middle East region for the first time ever.
“The vision and support of Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the trust that GSA president Prince Turki Al-Faisal had put in us were key to our efforts to secure the hosting rights for an event of such a global magnitude.”
On the sporting front, Saudi Arabia has already managed to bring high-profile events to the Kingdom, in a similar vein to the UAE.
Saudi Arabia has recently hosted the WWE Crown Jewel, a Formula-E race on the streets of Riyadh and January's Italian Super Cup between AC Milan and Juventus, while an exhibition match between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal in December was called off because the latter was injured.
George Groves and Callum Smith battled it out for the WBA super-middleweight and World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) titles in Jeddah, while American Dustin Johnson won the European Tour's inaugural Saudi International in February.