The Paris-Dakar Rally isn’t very big in the US, but it is in Europe and other parts of the world. For decades, it was the quintessential international motorsport expedition event – more so than the Camel Trophy and its other motorized adventure race style events.
As a kid, I remember watching the day’s highlights on TV, and sitting next to my dad on Sunday evenings as the race was recapped stage by stage. Helicopters equipped with cameras followed intrepid racers in kit cars and modified supercross bikes as they raced balls out across the North African desert. The crashes were as spectacular as the scenery. The teams were made up of seemingly unshakable professional adventurers and thrill-seekers. Drivers routinely got stuck in the sand and had to get themselves unstuck. Mechanical problems had to be fixed without assistance. The race was as much aout self-reliance and survival as it was about horsepower and speed.
I remember watching a participant on a motorcycle crash so hard one year that he broke both legs. He was on a motorcycle. In the desert. By himself. With two shattered legs. He managed to get back on his bike and somehow ride to the finish – amid dunes and rocks and some of the most hostile terrain known to man. Other than the hiker who amputated his own arm with a pocket knife a few years ago, this dude holds a special place in the pantheon of courageous and tough bastards.
Like I said, this race was mostly about courage.
That ended today when the organizers of the Paris Dakar Rally announced that the rally would temporarily move to South America next year in an attempt to avoid the threat of terrorism (from msn.com):
PARIS (AP) – Argentina and Chile will host the 2009 edition of the Dakar Rally, which was canceled this year because of fears of terrorism in Africa.
Organizers said Monday the race will start in Buenos Aires on Jan. 2 and finish in the Argentine capital Jan. 18. The full route will be announced Tuesday in Argentina by Patrice Clerc, who runs the company that organizes the rally.
This year marked the first time that the 30-year-old rally, one of the biggest competitions in automobile racing, was called off. The threat of terrorist attacks pushed the element of risk to levels organizers deemed unacceptable.
The roughly 550 competitors were to have embarked on a 16-day, 5,760-mile trek through remote and hostile dunes and scrub from Portugal to Dakar, Senegal.
The race, once known as the Paris-Dakar, was canceled following warnings from the French government about safety after the al-Qaida-linked Dec. 24 slaying of a family of French tourists in Mauritania. Eight of the competition’s 15 stages were to be held there.
Organizers promised that the cancellation did not mean the end of the Dakar race.
Easy for me to say, sitting comfortably at my desk, thousands of miles away from Europe and North Africa? Don’t be so sure. Anyone who makes it his or her career to train for these types of events and risk everything to race in them isn’t the kind of person who will back down because of the “possibility” of a terrorist attack. Racing teams have to be fuming over this ridiculous and unbelievably cowardly decision.
As if Al Qaeda didn’t have better things to do.
As if the race couldn’t be adequately protected.
I understand that the decision to cancel, and then to move the race is probably related to insurance coverage, but that is no excuse. The Paris-Dakar is called Paris-Dakar because the race starts in Paris, and ends in Dakar. Duh. It has for decades. Moving the race to a different continent makes in another race altogether. If you move it, it ceases to be Paris-Dakar. Period. End of story. The race dies.
Why don’t we also move the New York Marathon to Ontario, while we’re at it?
Why don’t we move the Superbowl to Australia?
Why don’t we move the Tour De France to Japan?
Why don’t we just cancel the Olympic Games?
All for security reasons. Al Qaeda and all…
Maybe race organizers should also get rid of the swim portion of the Hawaii Ironman because of the threat of shark attacks.
Maybe Mount Everest expeditions should be redirected to a safer mountain that doesn’t claim so many lives. We could still call it an Everest expedition… you know… for the sponsors. And for the public too, since they’ve heard of Everest.
Maybe Nascar should enforce speed limits.
When your event/race/brand is synonymous with courage, adventure, and survival in the face of adversity, cowering before the bullying specter of terrorism is just sad. Excuse my French, but if we have become too chicken-shit to race cars through the desert, the spirit of Paris-Dakar is indeed dead – only Al Qaeda had absolutely nothing to do with it: Terrorists may plant bombs and crash jetliners into skyscrapers, but we’ve become cowards all on our own. We can’t blame Al Qaeda for that.
I think that we can officially call the Paris-Dakar brand dead and buried.
Shame on the race organizers. Shame on the race sponsors. Shame on us all.
Let me close with this little bit of Chuck Palahniuk, for good measure:
“The laws that keep us safe, these same laws condemn us to boredom.” (…)
At her last trial, before the last time she went to jail, the Mommy had sat up next to the judge and said, “My goal is to be an engine of excitement in people’s lives.”
She’d stared right into the stupid little boy’s eyes and said, “My purpose is to give people glorious stories to tell.”
Before the guards took her into the back wearing handcuffs, she’d shouted, “Convicting me would be redundant. Our bureaucracy and our laws have turned the world into a clean, safe work camp.”
She shouted, “We are raising a generation of slaves.”
And it was back to prison for Ida Mancini.
“Incorrigible” isn’t the right word, but it’s the first word that comes to mind.
The unidentified woman, the one who ran down the aisle during the ballet, she was screaming, “We are teaching our children to be helpless.”
Running down the aisle and out a fire exit, she’d yelled, “We’re so structured and micromanaged, this isn’t a world anymore, it’s a damn cruise ship.”
– From Choke, by Chuck Palahniuk
Nothing is sadder to me than watching courage die. This is at the very least a sad day in the history of sport.
1979 – 2007