Dakar Rally race village gets fans in Jeddah revved up for start of the 2020 event

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Fans have been making the most of the chance to learn more about Dakar Rally, and the vehicles and drivers who are taking part. (AN photo/Huda Bashatah)
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Fans have been making the most of the chance to learn more about Dakar Rally, and the vehicles and drivers who are taking part. (AN photo/Huda Bashatah)
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Fans have been making the most of the chance to learn more about Dakar Rally, and the vehicles and drivers who are taking part. (AN photo/Huda Bashatah)
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Fans have been making the most of the chance to learn more about Dakar Rally, and the vehicles and drivers who are taking part. (AN photo/Huda Bashatah)
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Updated 04 January 2020

Dakar Rally race village gets fans in Jeddah revved up for start of the 2020 event

  • The Dakar Village in Jeddah is open until Jan. 4 from 4 p.m. to midnight
  • The rally begins on Jan. 5 in Jeddah, and will end in Riyadh on Jan. 17

JEDDAH: As the excitement builds ahead the start of the 42nd Dakar Rally, fans have been making the most of the chance to learn more about the event and the vehicles and drivers who are taking part.
The 2020 rally marks the first time it has been staged in the Middle East. In a test of endurance as well as speed, 550 competitors from 62 countries — driving cars, motorbikes, quad bikes and trucks — will set off from Jeddah on Sunday to cover 7,500 kilometers during 12 days of racing across the Saudi desert
Before then, crowds of fans have descended on Jeddah Corniche, where the Dakar race village has been set up to provide a wide range of entertaining and educational attractions and activities to get everyone up to speed on this unique motorsport challenge.
The Dakar Museum features some of the vehicles that will be taking part, along with other displays and information about the history of the world-famous event. Nearby, there are rows of parked vehicles undergoing final checks and inspections to make sure that they are fit to race.


There is also a special children’s section, where youngsters can ride on fancy miniature vans or race remote-controlled cars in the sand. For the grown-ups, there is a stage where local DJs and musicians perform throughout the evening. For more active fans there are some fun sporting activities, including soccer challenges. And, of course, there are enough food and beverage options to help restore flagging energy levels.
The soccer competitions were hosted by former world champion freestyle footballer Sean Garnier. “It’s my first time in Saudi Arabia and I’m really surprised by the way people enjoy the show and interact,” he said.
Entrepreneur Abdul Aziz and Ibtihal, a student, who visited the village together, said they were surprised by the scale of the event and how well organized it is.
“Some of these cars I’ve never seen in my life,” said Ibtihal. “It’s a perfectly orchestrated event.”
Al-Hazmi, a long-time fan of the Dakar Rally, said: “The organization is top notch but I wish they’d let people sit in the cars and enjoy rides as part of the experience in the future.” He added that he will be cheering for Saudi driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi.
Eduardo Ballinan and his wife Wilma, who moved to the Kingdom from the Philippines 15 years ago, said they cannot believe an event such as the Dakar Rally is taking place in Saudi Arabia.
“(Vehicles) like the KTM and one of the BMW models have never been seen here in Saudi Arabia. It’s huge,” said Ballinan, who runs a motorbike club with some friends.
The Dakar Village in Jeddah is open until Jan. 4 from 4 p.m. to midnight. The rally begins on Jan. 5 in Jeddah, and will end in Riyadh on Jan. 17. In the past year, Saudi Arabia has increasingly opened its doors to international tourism and world-class sports and entertainment events, as part of efforts to diversify the nation’s economy.


Why Riyad Mahrez should shed reluctant hero tag and join Arab greats

Updated 05 August 2020

Why Riyad Mahrez should shed reluctant hero tag and join Arab greats

  • The Algerian winger could be a few weeks away from his crowning glory
  • Beyond his goals, assists and medals, he is one of the most aesthetically pleasing players to watch in the Premier League

DUBAI: We should talk about Riyad Mahrez. Because, it seems, Riyad Mahrez doesn’t really like to talk about Riyad Mahrez.

Manchester City’s Algerian international is famously reticent when it comes to dealing with the media. For one of modern football’s most unique and successful talents, Mahrez remains an enigma; brilliant, instantly recognizable, and yet so often underrated.

Most fans would struggle to recall what his voice even sounds like. Though he has 5.5million followers on Instagram, and a further 2.2 million on Twitter, he mostly shuns the behind the scenes glamorous posts that so many footballers seem to enjoy in favor of match action shots. And there is no team of PR warriors shouting his achievements from the rooftops.

Which is a shame. One of the greatest Arab footballers of all time certainly deserves more. Except that, when the discussion of the greatest Arab or African footballers to play in Europe comes up, Mahrez rarely comes near the top.

A strong showing in the mini-champions League tournament over the next few weeks, starting with Friday’s round of 16 second leg against Real Madrid, could throw some gold dust on an already outstanding career.

Since his quiet introduction to the Premier League in 2014, Mahrez has been nothing short of a revelation; an enchanting, balletic footballer, whether gliding across the right wing to set up yet another chance for Jamie Vardy or Sergio Aguero, or cutting inside onto his magical left foot to score another stunning curling effort. Or, as he has done twice, winning the Premier League.

Beyond his goals, assists and medals, he is one of the most aesthetically pleasing players to watch in the Premier League, even the world.

So why does he struggle to gain the acclaim of other Arab and African footballers of past and present?

Like Karim Benzema in Spain, Mahrez is the right player, at the right place, at the right time. But not always, metaphorically speaking, the loudest of players.

By most metrics, Mohamed Salah takes some beating as the outstanding Arab footballer of modern times, perhaps ever. Since joining Liverpool in the summer of 2017, he has played a pivotal part in transforming the club from a fourth-placed team to proven winners, both in the Premier League and Champions League; twice won the Premier League Golden Boot, and also claimed the PFA Player of the Year in 2017-18.

Like Salah, Mahrez has won the Premier League in England, arguably the most high profile league in the world. In fact, he is one of only 11 players to have won it twice, first as the driving force behind Leicester City’s still scarcely believable 2015-16 title win (which also earned him the PFA Player of the Year award), and then as part of Pep Guardiola’s staggering collective at Manchester City in 2018-19. 

Unlike Salah, though, he has yet to win the Champions League. That could be about to change in a few weeks. Manchester City remain the favorites to win the delayed competition, now scheduled to conclude in Lisbon between 7th and 23rd of August.

Salah’s army of fans, from Liverpool to Cairo, rightly hail his every move.

But for Mahrez, there are no murals on neighborhood walls in New York or the Northwest of England. No string of television commercials. And no fashion magazine covers.

It is not for lack of achievement or talent either. You get the impression Mahrez just prefers it that way.

The 29-year-old, at first instance, might also suffer in comparison to one of Algeria’s greatest footballers.

Rabah Madjer achieved instant international fame when he scored in his nation’s finest hour-and-a-half, the 2-1 win against mighty West Germany at the 1982 World Cup in Spain. Five years, and many domestic titles later, he would return to haunt the Germans, scoring a remarkable back-heeled goal in Porto’s 1987 European Cup final win over Bayern Munich. Later that year he put on a man-of-the-match performance, and scored the winner, as Porto beat Penarol to claim the Intercontinental Cup in Tokyo.

Such iconic moments are hard to compete with. Yet Mahrez has many of his own.

In February 2016, Mahrez produced one of the Premier League’s most memorable individual performances of the last decade as Leicester defeated his future club Manchester City 3-1 at the Etihad stadium on the way to that stunning league title win. Even that early in the season, the Player of the Year award was in the bag.

And Premier League-centric viewers, at least those who don’t follow Manchester City, may have missed a truly outrageous stoppage time free-kick in a 2-1 win over Nigeria which secured Algeria’s place in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations Cup. Where the home crowds had eagerly anticipated a Salah and Egypt triumph, it was Mahrez and Algeria that were crowned African champions after beating Senegal 1-0 in the final at Cairo International Stadium.

Again, and inexplicably, the achievement did not garner the global acclaim it deserved.

Perhaps the biggest reason for Mahrez’s understated reputation is the company he keeps. When you play in forward line alongside Aguero, Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva, Jesus Gabriel, David Silva and, above all, the peerless Kevin De Bruyne, the credit will inevitably be spread around.

Mahrez, a maverick at Leicester, has been transformed by Pep Guardiola into the perfect team player at Manchester City. An excellent return of 11 goals and 12 assists in the Premier League this season may not quite see him at the top of either chart. But, in addition to one goal and four assists in the Champions League, his numbers accurately illustrate a consistent, at times spectacular, overall contribution in a season where he has been one of the club’s most impressive forwards.

If all that still doesn’t make him one of the greatest Arab footballers of all time, perhaps a Champions League medal on August 23 finally will.