The Kenyan government has pulled out all stops and is set to launch an aggressive push for the return of the Safari Rally to the high-profile World Rally Championship calendar.It’s now 15 years since the International Automobile Federation stripped the Kenyan rally of its WRC status and the government is keen on having the annual race back on the global map.
Already, the “WRC Safari Rally Project” — a committee to spearhead the rally’s global revival — has been gazetted.
“Following the sanctioning of the Safari Rally as a premier continental rally by the International Automobile Federation (FIA), to be held in Kenya in 2018, and with a nod by the said FIA to set up the WRC Safari Rally Project organizational structures with the hope of achieving full WRC (status) by 2020, the Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Sports, Culture and the Arts has appointed a committee to be known as the steering committee for WRC Safari Rally Project,” the November 8, 2017, Kenya Gazette notice by Sports CS Hassan Wario read.
Consequently, Kenya Motorsport Federation (KMSF) President Phineas Kimathi has been appointed chief executive officer of the steering committee whose chairman is the Cabinet Secretary for Sports.
Other members of the steering committee are the PS for Sports Development, Kenya Commercial Bank chief executive officer Joshua Oigara, KMSF director Jim Kahumbura along with Jaswant Singh Rai and John Njogu, the latter the legal adviser.
AN AFRICAN AFFAIR
Motorsports Uganda chairman Dusman Okee has already thrown his weight behind the Kenyan bid saying it was no longer a Kenyan project, but “an African affair.”
Okee met with the FIA’s “WRC Promoter” head Olivier Ciesla in Paris last month during the annual FIA motorsport awards gala and rallied Kenya’s cause.
This was a follow-up of a meeting in Abuja where African motorsports official backed decided Kenya to carry the onus of making Africa great again in the world of rallying.
The “FIA WRC Promoter” venture is headed by Ciesla of The Sportsman Media Group and Jona Siebel of the Red Bull Media House as managing directors.
The company is responsible for all commercial aspects of the FIA World Rally Championship.
These include broadcast formats, TV productions and the marketing of global media and sponsorship rights.
The “FIA WRC Promoter” also has the responsibility to promote the championship and to increase the field of participants, consisting both of manufacturers and private teams, subject to the approval of FIA.
The Promoter also proposes venues that will form the FIA WRC calendar in future seasons. They have already expressed their desire to return to Kenya.
Today’s WRC is a major undertaking with the “FIA WRC Promoter” fee standing at about Sh80 million.
But the return on investment is handsome as it is over Sh70 billion in global exposure which would impact positively on Kenya’s tourism and brand visibility as a country.
The Kenyan government set aside Sh250 million to actualize this dream in 2017 annual budget. The money will be appropriated this month.
Kimathi, upon taking over the leadership of Kenyan motorsport 18 months ago, embarked on shuttle diplomacy in a bid to return what was once Africa’s premier sporting event back onto the international calendar in 2020.
CS Wario also played a major role in lobbying President Uhuru Kenyatta to accept the Safari Rally revival project, along with Sports Principal Secretary Kirimi Kaberia.
The government has allocated the “WRC Safari Rally Project” offices at the Moi International Sports Centre which are set to be officially inaugurated this month.
An inter-ministerial team has also been thrown into motion incorporating the Sports, Devolution, Tourism, Lands, Internal Security and Finance ministries.
A similar inter-ministerial drive saw the successful hosting of the IAAF World Under-18 Championships in Nairobi last July.
“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,” Ciesla said in Paris last month.
“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,” he added.
In 2015, President Kenyatta made a request to FIA President Jean Todt to consider reinstating the Safari Rally into the WRC calendar when the two met at State House, Nairobi. Todt has been pushing for a more global calendar, having expressed concern at the Eurocentric schedule.
“This is a world championship and our calendar needs to better reflect that,” said Todt in an interview with Autosport magazine early last year.
On a positive note, since KCB took over rally sponsorship, spectator appeal has increased and charging people to access private closed roads might no longer be an option but a must.