Officials from Kenya and the International Automobile Federation (FIA) have agreed to postpone July’s Safari Rally owing to fears over the Covid-19 pandemic.
Both parties are expected to agree on the new dates for the Kenyan round of the World Rally Championship (WRC) on Monday.
Launched in May, 1953, as the Coronation Rally to celebrate Britain’s Queen Elizabeth’s ascent to the throne, the Safari Rally was initially scheduled for July 16 to 19.
The competition is making a comeback to the WRC calendar after 18 years out of the global picture.
Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed on Thursday said she, along with her Principal Secretary Joe Okudo, held a teleconference on Wednesday with FIA President Jean Todt, the FIA Promoter (who handles FIA’s commercial issues) and Safari Rally chief executive officer Phineas Kimathi with all the parties agreeing on a postponement.
“On Monday, a decision will be made on how long the postponement will be, because it’s important for people to have certainty,” Amina disclosed.
“It is clear that at the moment, people don’t want to travel immediately (after Covid-19 is arrested),” the CS briefed Nation Sport Thursday.
The Covid-19 pandemic has mutilated the 2020 WRC calendar with so far only three rallies in the 14-round championship having been run, in Monte Carlo, Sweden and Mexico.
And even then, the Mexico round was hurriedly dispensed with as as the pandemic reared its ugly head.
Elsewhere, officials of the New Zealand round of the WRC series (in Auckland from September 3 to 6) were Thursday soldiering on with their preparations hoping for normalcy to have resumed by then.
The Kiwis are embracing the WRC for the first time since 2012 and have been offered hope by the New Zealand government’s hugely successful fight against the coronavirus.
The hugely successful southern hemisphere fight against the pandemic has seen New Zealand, with a population of five million people, report 1,200 positive Covid-19 cases with just one death by Thursday, while neighbours Australia, with a population of 25 million, have detected 6,000 infections and 50 deaths.
The success has been attributed to strict adherence of the anti-coronavirus measures with social distancing being enforced by police in the two countries.
Equally robust measures by the Kenyan government have so far (as at Thursday’s official brief) detected 184 Covid-19 positive cases.
According to the latest National Emergency Response Committee on Coronavirus brief, 12 people have so far been discharged from Kenya’s Covid-19 management centres with seven deaths reported.
The positive steps being taken by the Kenyan government will most certainly hold the Safari Rally in good stead as they will give FIA and WRC officials the confidence to simply postpone the rally rather than cancel it altogether.
So far, the WRC rounds in Argentina, Portugal and Italy have been postponed with the Chile round cancelled owing to civil strife in the South American nation.
The mass Chilean protests, triggered by skyrocketing costs of living, were only doused by the coronavirus threats that saw President Sebastian Pinera outlaw mass gatherings which has triggered an increase of Covid-19 positive cases from just 50 to over 3,000 inside a few days last month.
By Thursday, Chile had one of the largest number of Covid-19 cases with 5,546 people confirmed positive and 48 deaths reported.
As at Thursday, the Safari Rally team, under Kimathi, had virtually completed all groundwork required ahead of the initial July 16 to 19 competition dates.
Clerk of the course Gurvir Bhabra, his assistant Nazir Yakub and Anwar Sidi, who is in charge of media safety and route liaison, completed various aspects of route management two weeks ago.
“The plans are going on well and even if we were asked to run the rally next week, we are prepared to do so,” Sidi said.
“I’d like to thank Kimathi for the confidence he has shown in us and for allowing us to work with minimal supervision. The spirits are high in the team,” Sidi added.
On the WRC programme after the initial Safari Rally dates is the Rally Finland from August 6 to 9.
FIA are also expected to advise on the fate of this popular competition which is run on the hilly, forest-layered Finnish Lake district, and which precedes Auckland’s Rally New Zealand.