SAFETY CONCERNS in the African Republic of Mauritania have led to the cancellation of the 2008 Lisbon-Dakar rally, which was due to start tomorrow (Saturday).
Daniel Bilalian of France-Televisions, a TV partner of the endurance rally, told Europe-1 radio that “wisdom had prevailed” and the race had been called off.
Race organisers confirmed the cancellation today (Friday) on the official website.
It is the first time in the race’s 30-year history that it has been cancelled. In the past, only stages have been called off.
This development has come after the murder of four French tourists in Mauritania on Christmas Eve, which was blamed on al-Qaeda militants, leading to the French government voicing concerns over the rally’s eight stages through the country.
French ministers discussed safety at the rally at a meeting yesterday (Thursday), while foreign ministry officials met with the race’s French organisers to discuss the risks.
“The ministry strongly warns all French citizens against going to Mauritania until further orders,” said the government spokesman Laurent Wauquiez, adding: “That goes for all French people, as well as the organisation of the Lisbon-Dakar rally.”
The decision to cancel is based on the current international political tension and the murder of four French tourists on December 24, 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.
As a result, say the organisers, no other decision but the cancellation of the sporting event could be taken by A.S.O.
Daniel Bilalian, director of sports for France-Televisions said: “There were risks; warnings had been given… if the slightest thing, the slightest incident had happened in Mauritania, not to mention accidents or attacks, then the whole credibility of Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) would have been called into question and ASO could not allow that.”
ASO said that it condemns the terrorist menace that annihilated a year of hard work as well as disappointed thousands of people, but stated that the Dakar is a symbol and nothing can destroy symbols.
The official website statement also said that the cancellation of the 2008 edition does not endanger the future of the Dakar.
The race, organised by the France-based Amaury Sport Organization, had been due to start in Lisbon, Portugal, tomorrow and finish in Dakar, Senegal, on January 20.