Grassroot project aims to produce Saudi Arabia’s first female Dakar driver

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The project aims to introduce the first female Saudi races to Dakar. (Supplied)
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The project aims to introduce the first female Saudi races to Dakar. (Supplied)
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Updated 13 January 2020

Grassroot project aims to produce Saudi Arabia’s first female Dakar driver

  • Reem Al-Aboud, a young racing driver and one of the program members, drove the first stage of Dakar Saudi Arabia 2020 from Jeddah to Al-Wajh
  • Dakar Saudi Arabia 2020 takes place over 12 stages contested in 13 days

RIYADH: Dakar Rally organizers A.S.O. initiated a development project that aims to have female Saudi drivers take part in the 2021 edition of the challenging race.

A.S.O. worked with Saudi circuit racer Aseel Al-Hamad, who is also a board member of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation (SAMF) and a representative of the FIA Women in Motorsports Commission.

Al-Hamad proposed a grassroot approach to put young Saudi talents in the driving seat and prepare them for next year’s edition of the desert adventure.

Reem Al-Aboud, a young racing driver and one of the program members, drove the first stage of Dakar Saudi Arabia 2020 from Jeddah to Al-Wajh. The 20-year-old is a club racer, whose passion for motorsport started with karting.

She also won the second place at Saudi Time Attack and was the first Saudi female to test the Formula-E car in Diriyah ABB Formula E in 2018.

Expressing her excitement to be part of the project, Al-Aboud said: “I never imagined how thrilling it would be. The experience is totally different from track racing. I now know that I would want to be a rally driver besides my passion for track racing. It will require a lot of training and dedication to gain proper experience, and I am up for it.”

Another female driver in the running to be the first female Saudi competitor at Dakar Rally is Dania Akeel. The 31-year-old biker got the first female Speed Bike Competition License issued by SAMF and competed in UAE National Sportsbike Super Series as well as the Bahrain BMR600 Championship.

Among the other names to feature in the program was 31-year-old dirt biker Mashael Al-Obaidan who recently obtained a sport driving license and will be competing in local rally championships while she looks forward to the headline race next year.

Following Al-Aboud’s drive from Jeddah to Al-Wajh in Stage 1, Al-Hamad drove the fifth stage from AlUla to Hail and the sixth stage from Hail to Riyadh, while Akeel was behind the wheel in Stage 7 from Riyadh to Wadi Al-Dawasir. Al-Obaidan, meanwhile, drove in Stage 8, which started from and ended in Wadi Al Dawasir.

“This is just the start. We are doing this to discover our local female talents, work with A.S.O. to train them with Patissier and prepare them to compete at Dakar Saudi Arabia 2021,” Al-Hamad said.

Dakar Saudi Arabia 2020 takes place over 12 stages contested in 13 days and sees 342 pilots from 62 countries drive nearly 8,000km of uncharted Saudi desert.

 


Lin Dan retirement ends era of ‘Chinese sports superstar’

Updated 08 July 2020

Lin Dan retirement ends era of ‘Chinese sports superstar’

  • The era of the superstar that once belonged to Chinese sports has faded

SHANGHAI: The retirement of two-time Olympic champion Lin Dan signals the end of a golden era of Chinese sporting superstars, state media said on Tuesday.

Arguably the greatest badminton player of all time, the 36-year-old said on Saturday that he was bringing the curtain down on a career that also brought five world titles.

NBA All-Star Yao Ming, Olympic gold-medal hurdler Liu Xiang and two-time tennis Grand Slam champion Li Na have all retired in the last decade.

“With the ‘Super Dan’ curtain call, people cannot help but sigh,” Xinhua news agency said.

“The era of the superstar that once belonged to Chinese sports has faded.

“When will the next Lin Dan appear? Or when will the next Yao Ming, Liu Xiang and Li Na appear?

“Where is the next Chinese sports superstar who will create a collective memory for us?”

The quartet were not just world leaders in their sport and popular in China, but also had “considerable influence in the international arena and became a window for the world to understand China,” Xinhua said.

Of prominent Chinese athletes left, women’s volleyball player Zhu Ting has the potential to rise to superstar level, Xinhua said, while disgraced swimmer Sun Yang “enjoys high popularity (in China), but unfortunately he is banned.” 

The 28-year-old is appealing against an 8-year ban for refusing to give a doping sample. The three-time Olympic freestyle champion’s career will effectively be over if he loses his appeal at the Swiss Federal Tribunal.

China has world champions in other sports, and finished third behind the US and Britain in the medal table at the Rio 2016 Olympics, but they are not generally well-known even inside the country, Xinhua said.

Table tennis player Zhang Jike, another three-time Olympic gold medalist, deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Lin, said the Oriental Sports Daily.

But at 32 his best days are behind him and as far back as 2016 he signaled his intention to retire, before having a change of heart.

“When will the next Lin Dan and China’s next sports superstar appear again?” asked the newspaper.

“This question may not be answered in a short space of time.”