Zimbabwean off-road motorcycle rider Graeme Sharp (pictured) will not be participating at the Dakar Rally 2021, which is held in January each year, after the Covid-19 pandemic affected his training schedule and sponsorship prospects.
In January this year, he became the first Zimbabwean to finish the Dakar Rally, but will miss the 43rd edition which is set to be held in Saudi Arabia for the second time. The 14-day marathon event will be held for 14 days, from January 3 to 15, 2021.
“Negative for 2021. I am in discussions about leading a Zimbabwean team to the 2022 event, pending sponsors interest. 2020 has been a tough year for many, Zimbabwe in particular. I feel another fundraising for 2021 would be challenging.
“All 2020 qualifiers were cancelled so the opportunity for other Zim riders to qualify was not possible,” he said.
Sharp finished overall 74th in his history-making debut appearance and was expected to lead the team as part of the BAS Racing KTM Team.
In the 2020 Dakar race, Sharp rode the 7 900 kilometres through dunes, camel grass, rocks, mountain passes, alpine lakes and river valleys.
His maiden race saw a number of corporates, including NL Design, Roost KTM, Mira Active Wear, Padenga, Saw Power, STIHL, Future Water Bars, Solgar RSA, Bad Rabbit Studio and Tiran Logistics partnering with the athlete to make his Dakar dream a reality.
Motorsport Zimbabwe spokesperson Temba Mazvimbakupa said Covid-19 has posed serious effects to the sport as well as affecting training time for Sharp.
“Covid-19 affected motorsport because the motorsport mother body had to abide with the lockdown restrictions and suspended all events. This means also for Graeme Sharp his training times were affected and his fundraising was also affected too because the pandemic started in March and from there we were doing nothing,” he added.
Mazvimbakumba said despite the absence of supporters, the association still planned to host some events this year.
“Motorsport is open except we are still not allowed spectators. The three-hour endure is still on cards in December although not having public creates a big problem on the financial side.
“The big change we have done is to not run Nationals this year. This mainly due to trying to fit all the events in over a short time and the problems in the intercity travel. MX and Karts are going well.”
The rally was moved from South America to the Middle East last year, marking the start of the third chapter in the illustrious history of the event, which originally was held from Paris, France, to Dakar, Senegal in Africa since inception in 1979. It was moved to South America between 2009-2019 because of security threats in Mauritania which led to the cancellation of the 2008 event.
Saudi Arabia had an exclusivity clause for the first year of the five-year deal, but the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) had been working to add a second country for the 2021 race, with both Egypt and Jordan believed to have been considered.
However, with the coronavirus likely to create travel restrictions for months to come, it was decided to hold the Dakar Rally in a single country for the third year in a row. The ASO also revealed that the 43rd edition of the event will begin on January 3 in Jeddah and conclude in the same coastal city on January 15 after 11 stages and a prologue that will determine the starting order for the opening special.
“We do not have the route that we expected, because we had 2-3 countries in our minds, but with Covid-19 and confinement there was no way to go out and visit those territories,” Dakar director David Castera said.
This story was originally published by the Weekly Digest, an AMH publication.