‘Let’s make a deal,’ Jean Todt tells President Kenyatta and Kenyans who want the Safari back in the world championship.
VOICE OF SPORTS —– February 28 2018—
THE world’s leading official in motorsport, Frenchman Jean Todt said in Nairobi on Wednesday that Kenyans were capable organising the Safari Rally to satisfactory standards so that it could revert to World Rally Championship (WRC) status in 2020 which it lost in 2002.
Todt, the President of FIA (International Automobile Association) which among other roles supervises international motorsport, opened operations offices at Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani in Nairobi’s northern suburbs where a Kenya Government-backed and funded project has been set up to make the Safari a WRC event in 2020 a reality.
The FIA President said in Kenya and worldwide, there was an expression to have the Safari back on the WRC calendar and now the very first tangible evidence of real efforts to re-instate the rally were showing.
He said, Kenya had everything going for them including, worldwide support by lovers of WRC and “a beautiful country”. But he said those involved in a proposed re-entry of the Safari in the WRC must work awfully hard to satisfy all conditions that have been set by the WRC.
“You need to deliver the job. If you do deliver, you will get the rally back in the calendar. If you don’t deliver, you will not get it!” the FIA President barked.
“We do not have much time. Too much of it has been lost (since talk of having the event back on the WRC started). Today must be the date for probably one of the biggest starts towards the dream.” But he was encouraging to those in the bid to have the Safari back in the WRC project adding:
“I am your supporter. Allow me to tell you that I spent my birthday on Sunday night on the plane coming here. I hope, thanks to you, that in a few years’ time it will be nice reminding you that it was worth being on that plane … to be so proud of the result; achieving to have the rally back in the WRC.”
Todt was addressing scores of rally drivers (veterans, current and aspiring ones), Government officials of the Ministry of Sports Culture and the Arts (MOSCA) and ordinary motorsports enthusiasts present to see the launch of the WRC Safari Rally 2020 Project headquarters at Kasarani.
He intimated that Kenya’s efforts were serious and that the country should also play, through the high profile of the Safari Rally, a prominent part in highlighting one of FIA’s major projects, a drive in world road safety.
Todt said that he had met Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta on Wednesday morning and that they had sought each other’s support. After several Kenyan approaches, Todt said he had met President Kenyatta in 2015. “I had the opportunity to talk to President Kenyatta when I came here two years back and I told him I found not enough had happened since I was here last time. But today (Wednesday Feb 27, 2018) I am encouraged in what I have heard and what I have seen.
“ (To make an opinion) I rely on the Kenya Motor Sports Federation (KMSF), I rely also on my friends of the Automobile Association (AA), because as a family (it) has to work as a team. I also rely on the member of the FIA Foundation, I rely on the private sector, I rely on the public sector and I am glad that (here) you have a good inventory of good businessmen like my friend Jassy (Jaswant Singh Rai) who has decided that he wants this country to be back in the (WRC) calendar and you, Joshua (Oigara, chief executive officer of Kenya Commercial Bank).”
Rai and Oigara, as well as others from the KMSF board of directors, the private sector and Government are members of the Safari WRC 2020 Project.
The FIA President said he promised President Kenyatta backing over the Safari re-entry into WRC, but with a rider: “This morning (Wednesday) I had the opportunity of discussing again with President Kenyatta and he took me aside and he said: ‘I really want that in my second mandate as the President of Kenya, to have the East Africa Safari Rally back into the WRC and I will put all my efforts into it.
“Then I said: ‘Mr President you must combine that as well with another parameter which is very dear to me. I have initiated it in my second mandate as President of the FIA and have also been appointed as UN Secretary General and special envoy — road safety.
“(Lack of) road safety is one of the world’s leading killers; 1.3 million in a year die on the roads, 50 million injured. In your country, but not only in your country, globally, it is a No. 1 cause of fatalities for youth between 14 to 29. So, I really hope that Kenya will become a leader among addressing road safety in Africa and in the world.”
Todt added at Kasarani: “For me, motorsport is a laboratory for the road. And I am happy to see here in Kenya, the formation of educating people about this.”
Then he said of the modern conditions for rallying: “You don’t do racing on open roads. You do that on policed roads, with a lot safety measures on the cars, on the drivers and for the spectators. In this respect I am expecting the East Africa Safari Rally to be a pioneer and a fine example.
“Let’s dream that you have the rally back. I am convinced that you will have the rally back (in the WRC) but we must stop this carnage on the roads, the fatalities, where Africa, unfortunately, is the leader.”
The FIA head left the feeling in Nairobi that it was all there for the taking for the Kenyans if they could meet the challenges of hosting the Safari Rally within the demanding WRC standards.
The KMSF chairman Phineas Kimathi who is the chief executive officer of the WRC (2020) Safari Rally Project said the FIA President had been ‘incredibly supportive of Kenya’s bid” adding:
“As KMSF head, I was honoured by President Todt’s acceptance of me to make consultation in many informal meetings, at very short notice, in places such as Turin, Vienna, Paris, Geneva and even in Africa in Addis Ababa, Abuja and Kenya. I acknowledge his openness, willingness to help and support of our bid.”
Kimathi said he was a rally driver when the Safari was in the WRC and enjoyed the status. “When we lost it, I never thought that 16 years later I would have the opportunity to work hard and spearhead bringing it back.”
The Principal Secretary in MOSCA, Ambassador Peter Kaberia, also said that the personnel working on the WRC Safari Rally Project was one of those sports federations that impressed the Government.
I joined this Ministry (MOSCA) only last year. When I got here I found people committed, very happy people ready to run with new ideas and do things differently. We have done especially well in the last six months. Those working on the Safari Rally are people from all walks of life, with a blend of professionalism and business acumen that can impress the private and public sector.
“We need this sort of organisation because the Government cannot fund or organize everything. Sports federations need to be led by personnel that especially the Private sector can trust.”
Ironically, the PS apologised to the KMSF CEO Kimathi for frustration he may have faced in Government red-tape. “He may at times have been frustrated walking along our corridors; when things were not working. Government is sometimes not as smooth as is the private sector.”
Kaberia said an inter-ministerial intervention by the National Treasury (finance), Interior (security), Tourism and MOSCA would make the WRC Safari Rally Project a reality.
Comprehensively, what the FIA President, Jean Todt, said at Kasarani on Wednesday:
First of all, Jean Todt, did not once refer to the historic motoring rally any other way other than the “East African Safari Rally”; indeed the name that the event is nostalgically known all over the world since soon after starting in 1953 as the Coronation Rally.
When it returns to the World Rally Championship (WRC) calendar, organisers and publicists should make sure that it is uniformly referred to in it’s most well known form, the, East African Safari Rally, after all, it’s history is steeped in the wide East Africa and not strictly in Kenya.
What Jean Todt said:
“It is with emotion that I am here today in Nairobi. To participate in the launching of the WRC East African Safari Rally Project (headquarters). And a lot of things come to my mind because I saw some photos in this little headquarters. Like coming here when I was 27 years old in 1973. And in ’73 the East African Safari Rally was a reference in rally sport in the world. At the time they said if you are not a local you cannot win it. Over 5,000km, over 3,000 miles and the heroes who were then my legends as well; Joginder Singh, Nick Nowicki, (Bert) Shankland … and at the time the rally was going to Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
“I participated eight times and I think only finished once, as a co-driver. Then I became head of Peugeot motorsport with the Peugeot 205 Turbo 16. And this car beat all the records but the only rally the 205 Turbo 16 did not manage to win was the East African Safari! So it demonstrates the level of the event.
“I must admit I was very sad when the East African Safari Rally lost its part in being among the World Rally Championship (WRC) calendar. It happened in 2002. And over the years it has always been a strong will to re-initiate the East Africa Safari Rally in the calendar. It was always the agenda of (Kenya) the country; in the public sector, in the private sector but unfortunately it did not yet happen.
“But we must admit times have changed. What was possible some time back on open roads, where safety concerns were not as crucial as it is now. It is not possible anymore.
“We have to think of initiating new format of rallying in one of the most beautiful countries in the world. And that’s what Kenya means for me. When I am here, people ask me ‘Is this the first time?’ I say: “Not the first time. I think I have been here over 30 times; for rallying and for pleasure, because it is one of the most beautiful countries in the world
“If you go to Mt Kenya, if you are going to the sea, Malindi, Mombasa, Lamu … I mean it is a very diversified country with beautiful people. It deserves it (Safari in the WRC)
“All of us who are here today (Kasarani), let’s say that this thing belongs to us; it’s part of the assets of this country and being part of the assets, you want to have the East African Safari Rally back.
“At FIA, we are making big plans on rallying and safety on the roads in your country. I really hope that Kenya will become among the leaders of addressing road safety in Africa and all over the world.
“Let’s dream that we shall have the rally back (in the WRC). I am convinced you have everything in you to have the rally back but we must stop this carnage in road, traffic fatalities and injuries where Africa, unfortunately is the leader. You must educate people. And you don’t do rallying on open roads.”
Todt bid farewell to a Kenya project team that clearly impressed him: “ I hope you will be a strong team and I will be encouraging you to be able to achieve these results. “Thank you, and from the deepest of my heart, I can say I am very touched. There are emotions and a lot of hopes that we will achieve great things and that you will achieve.”
A new event is expected to be run in Kenya this year, reestablishing the necessary (WRC Safari Rally) organisational structure out of Nairobi, David Evans of Motosports News (UK) reported prior to Jean Todt’s visit to Kenya.
He quoted the Kenya Government expressing high hopes: “Following the sanctioning of the Safari Rally as a premier continental rally by the FIA to be held in Kenya in 2018, and with a nod by [from] the FIA to set up the WRC Safari Rally Project organisational structures with the hope of achieving full WRC [status] by 2020.”
Initial estimates reckon the investment required to land a WRC round would return more than £500m in Kenya’s global visibility and tourism. The Kenyan bid had been further boosted by the news that neighbouring Uganda was also supporting the effort, with Motorsport Uganda chairman Dusman Okee talking the plans through with WRC Promoter’s Oliver Ciesla late last year.
The Safari Rally isn’t just high on Todt’s WRC wish list, but also for WRC Promoter and the manufacturers. The teams will, however, be keen to avoid the costs associated with competing in Kenya through the 1980s and Nineties, when multi-million-pound budgets had to be set aside, along with months of testing, to build a specific Safari car.
For the promoter, the appeal of returning to some of the most epic and inspiring backdrops in motorsport is enough to bring them to talks with the WRC Safari Rally Project.
Ciesla said: “We recognise the Safari’s long and proud history in the FIA World Rally Championship and the place it holds in the hearts of Kenya’s population. We welcome the sincere passion and the strong efforts and commitment which the country’s government and the Kenya Motorsports Federation is injecting into the project of returning the WRC to Africa.
“We are committed to hosting a WRC round on the African continent in the near future and will continue to work closely alongside the government and federation with the goal of seeing the Safari Rally back on the WRC calendar.”
-Additional reporting by WRC Safari Rally Project and Agencies