Dakar Rally to remain in Saudi Arabia, say organisers

Saudi Arabia will continue to be the home of the Dakar Rally for the next few years with race director David Castera telling AFP "we still have so many deserts to explore".

Castera was speaking after Saturday's penultimate stage with Qatari Nasser Al-Attiyah poised for his fifth title.

"I'm very happy we're staying here, with so many deserts still to explore and with this country's enormous potential," he said.

Motorsport's toughest endurance test moved to the conservative kingdom in 2020 after a spell in South America on an initial 10-year contract.

Dakar organisers ASO announced the switch in 2019 saying a new chapter of the gruelling race's history would be written in the "mysterious and vast deserts" of the land.

Castera confirmed a clause in the Saudi deal to pull out after five years would not be taken up.

The race's move to the oil-rich state sparked controversy with accusations of 'sportswashing' as the Gulf monarchy, often criticised over its human rights record, attempts to burnish its image and attract foreign interest as it diversifies its economy away from oil.

"Today there's been a big change, it's progressing at a fast rate," commented Castera.

"I'm not here to play politics but to organise a sporting event which has the legitimacy to exist here because the terrain suits it."

Saudi Arabia has invested heavily in attracting high profile sporting events including tennis, golf and Formula One to its shores and is preparing a joint bid to host the 2030 World Cup.

And last month five-time Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo signed for Saudi side Al Nassr in a deal worth 200 million euros.