The 2020 WRC Safari Rally, initially scheduled to be held between July 16 and 19, has been postponed until next year due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohammed announced on Friday.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected sporting events across the globe including the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC).
Mohamed said the decision was reached at after sustained discussion between the Government of Kenya, WRC Promoter and the International Motorsport Association (FIA) since March when coronavirus was declared a global pandemic.
“We are grateful to the Patron, His Excellence President Uhuru Kenyatta for his unwavering support and counsel as we deliberated on the next step,” the CS said in a statement.
“We also owe exceptional gratitude to the President of the FIA, Mr Jean Totd, and the WRXC Promoter led by Oliver Ciesla for their unyielding support since we commenced engagements to return the Safari Rally to the WRC circuit.”
The Safari was scheduled to be the eighth round of the 13-event WRC series and the latest to be affected by Covid after Argentina, Portugal and Italy rallies.
Only three events, Monte Carlo, Sweden, and Mexico have been held this year. Chile was cancelled last year due to domestic political upheavals.
Organisers of the Finland rally, which was the next event after the Safari Rally, have said they might change their date to September.
Safari Rally’s Chief Executive Officer Phineas Kimathi said the organisational work for the rally, which will be held in Nairobi and Nakuru counties, will continue.
“We will continue working as if the Safari will be held in July. The route is complete and sealed,” said Kimathi, who was instrumental in initiating the process of returning the Safari Rally back to the WRC after an 18-year hiatus.
Kiamthi said that work at the Service Park is ongoing and will be complete as scheduled. The ground has been levelled and compacted and structural work for construction is expected to start soon and be ready two weeks before the initial July dates.
The Service Park will serve as Parc Ferme, Media Centre, manufacturer teams headquarters and broadcast centre for the WRC+ TV which will broadcast the Safari live and give the feed to linear TV across the globe.
Started in 1953 by motoring enthusiasts to commemorate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II of England, the Safari grew to become the toughest rally in the world which defied the skills of foreign professional drivers for 20 years until 1972 when Finnish ace Hannu Mikola, navigated by Swede Gunnar Palm, broke the jinx.
The Safari became part of the WRC the following year before being dropped in 2002 due to safety and financial challenges. However, in 2016 Kimathi initiated the first step to return the Safari into the WRC fold only three years after President Kenyatta promised Kenyans of his government’s determination to return the Safari in the WRC.
In 2017, the government gave a grant of Sh250 million. Last year, the Safari was held as a WRC Candidate event observed by top officials from the FIA and its commercial rights holder company, WRC Promoter.
On September 27 last year, the FIA President Jean Todt confirmed Safari Rally’s return to the WRC.