The 30th Edition of the Dakar Rally, due to start in Lisbon tomorrow, January 5, 2008, has been been confirmed to be canceled. Scrutineering activities were halted in Lisbon at 10 AM local time, and Amaury Sport Organization, the rally organizer, issued a press release confirming this at 12:00 PM.
"Based on the current international political tension and the murder of four French tourists last 24th of December linked to a branch of Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb, but also and mainly the direct threats launched directly against the race by terrorist organisations, no other decision but the cancellation of the sporting event could be taken by ASO," per the press release.
There have been security concerns about the rally since the 24th of December, 2007, when four the French tourists were killed in Mauritania, with terrorism suspected as the motive.
The French government on Wednesday advised all French nationals against travel to the country. "The Foreign Ministry has firmly advised all French citizens not to travel to Mauritania," stated the govenment spokesperson. "What goes for the French public also applies to the organization of the Dakar Rally."
The organizers had hesitated to cancel the event, with the Mauritanian government committing 4,000 soldiers to protecting the competitors, organizers and media. The stages through Mali had already been previously excluded for security reasons.
Today, French Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner made the warning to the Dakar organizers even more explicit, though.
"We are warning them -- it is dangerous," said Kouchner. "It is a very unsafe region travelled by groups belonging to al-Qaeda. I hope they will understand, but it's their business, they are a private organization."
Eight of the 15 stages of the Dakar Rally, covering 3,853 km of racing, were to be run through Mauritania. With over 500 teams participating, plus countless support personnel, organizers and media, the security challenge was judged not to be manageable, at least at this late stage of organization.
"ASO's first responsibility is to guarantee the safety of all," the press release stated. "That of the populations in the countries visited, of the amateur and professional competitors, of the technical assistance personnel, of the journalists, partners and rally collaborators. ASO therefore reaffirms that the choice of security is not, has never been and will never be a subject of compromise at the heart of the Dakar rally."
This will be the first time the event, first run in 1979, has not been run as scheduled. However, ASO confirmed their commitment to the future of the event, though the 30th edition is now delayed.
"The Dakar is a symbol and nothing can destroy symbols," the ASO stated. "The cancellation of the 2008 edition does not endanger the future of the Dakar. To offer, for 2009 a new adventure to all the off-road rally passionate is a challenge that ASO will take on in the months to come, faithful to its engagement and its passion for sports."
What route the 2009 event will take remains to be seen, however.