It was with a great deal of sadness that the Amaury Sport Organization (ASO) was forced to cancel the 30th Edition of the Dakar rally, from Lisbon to Dakar, crossing the African Continent this year.
Due to the threat of terrorists attacks, Etienne Lavigne, director of the Dakar rally and his organization felt for safety reasons to the competitors that the event had to put aside until the event could be held without the treat of terrorism in the region.
On January 4, 2008, the day before the 2008 event was to start, the ASO issued a news release: "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".
Fast forward to Tuesday, February 12th in Buenos Aires, Argentina and note that the mood at the Casa Rosada, the seat of the Argentinean government, was one cheer when the ASO announced that Argentina and Chile will host the 2009 edition of the famous cross-country rally.
In a press room with over 100 members of the media, Patrice Clerc, president of ASO and Lavigne were joined by the Secretary of Tourism of Argentina, Enrique Meyer and the president of C.D.A. of the A.C.A., Carlos Garcia Remohi to explain to the world the details and the reasons that brought the most challenging race on the world to South America.
Right before the meeting with the press, Clerc and Lavigne had been with Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, President of Argentina, who brought up the importance of the coming of the Dakar to the country.
The Dakar of Argentina-Chile 2009 will start on January 3rd in the Argentinean capital, Buenos Aires, and will have a day of rest in Valparaiso, Chile, before return to Buenos Aires to finish on January 18th. The competitors will cover 9000kms across both countries of which 6000kms will be Special Stages.
"The race will be a milestone in Argentina", stated Meyer, comparing its importance with a Formula One Grand Prix or the Football World Cup.
After the promised to work on his Spanish, Clerc thanked the Argentine President and commented that the search for new roads without losing the Dakar characteristics and spirit was of importance.
"It will be the greatest race in the word in one of the most beautiful places of the world", he said.
Lavigne added, "The best teams and competitors will be able to discover this new adventure that for me has already started."
Regarding the long-term future of the Dakar, Clerc stated that with the new Dakar Series, they will visit places and visit other territories beyond South America and Africa, where it is planned to return.
"The Rally Dakar has a nomad vocation and that's why it will take place in different continents, and will not be always in South America or Africa," he explained.
The first event under the Dakar banner will start in Budapest, Hungary; cross into Romania; and end in Balaton, Hungary. Known as the Central Europe Rally, the event will be held in April this year.
"We have crossed the ocean. The Dakar visits South America but doesn't, however, leave Africa. The rally was forced to move away from its base but its roots haven't moved," said Lavigne. "Africa remains at the heart of our concerns. The return of the Dakar will not be that of an unworthy son."
In relation to the continuity of the series in Argentina and Chile, Meyer said that the Argentinean President invited the organizers to have another edition in 2010, a special year for the country as the bicentennial of its independence. However, that will be decided at a later date and may or may not be in January.
The details of the route will be announced at a later date as Lavigne commented that the reconnaissance of the territory will start shortly. "The idea is that the competitors discover the landscapes of South America", he said.
Safety is a major point in the organization of the competition and that's why Meyer was conclusive when the said: "We don`t have problems of terrorism in Argentina".
The registrations for the competitors will start on May 15th having priority for those that had been set to start the 2008 event.
The adventure of the most famous cross-country race in the world is set to try some new roads in South America with the responsibility and the desire of keep alive the spirit and the challenge that involve the word Dakar.