The Dakar Rally is set to begin, and the director defends his presence in Saudi Arabia.

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The Dakar Rally is set to begin, and the director defends his presence in Saudi Arabia.

The Dakar Rally starts on Saturday in Saudi Arabia, with race director David Castera telling AFP that “turning one’s back” on the hosts because of concerns about their human rights record would be worse.

Castera said as just over 1000 competitors fine-tuned the 578 vehicles, trucks, and motorcycles that would compete for the third race in the Saudi desert, which reaches its conclusion on January 14.

Saudi Arabia is becoming a more popular destination for major sporting events, such as the Formula One Grand Prix (albeit seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton claimed he was uncomfortable competing there) and football matches.

While some argue that Saudi Arabia is “sportswashing” its human rights record, Castera believes it is more of an opening up, as seen by the participation of two Saudi women on the starting line (they have been allowed to drive in Saudi since 2018).

“I believe that Formula One, football, Extreme E, and the rest of it… Saudi Arabia has chosen to open up through sport,” he remarked.

“Do we have to turn away because not everything is as we would like it to be?” That, I believe, would be far worse.

“I was happy to be next a car with two women inside this morning, and now I have two Saudi ladies at the Dakar start line.”

“You have the option of debating the point” (of being here).

“However, I feel that getting all of these people here would have been inconceivable just a few years ago.”

“The country is beginning to open up, and turning one’s back on countries like these would cause them to close in on themselves even more.”

On the sports front, Giniel de Villiers, a South African veteran, will be attempting to win the automobile race for the second time and overtake champion Stephane Peterhansel.

With all-time record holder (14 wins, including six in the motorcycle category) Peterhansel’s Audi squad — which also includes three-time winner Carlos Sainz — claiming their hybrid model is not capable of winning this year, the 49-year-chances old’s have risen.

De Villiers, the 2009 champion, believes he has a greater chance of winning this year than he did last year, when he was plagued by punctures.

He told the Dakar website, “We performed a lot of testing this year with the new car, really a lot of testing to bring it to where it is now.”

“The wider wheels and additional suspension make a tremendous difference.” It is less difficult. The Washington Newsday Brief News is a daily newspaper published in Washington, D.C.

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