The first FIA Sport Regional Congress for the Middle East and North Africa Region (MENA), held in Kuwait over a period of three days, concluded its activities yesterday, Sunday, with the adoption of recommendations and studies that serve the best interest of motor sport and promote future races and championships in the MENA region.
After deliberations held during the MENA meeting last Friday, the representatives of 19 ASNs discussed, in training workshops organized over the following two days, the major obstacles hindering the development of motor sport in the MENA countries, including the organizational, technical and logistical support provided by the FIA to these countries in championships and races. They have also deliberated on the mechanism used to define the tracks of cross-country rallies of the Middle East Rally Championship (MERC) in Dubai, Qatar and Kuwait. In fact, as these countries have open desert spaces, the organizers will have to deploy additional efforts to limit violations during the race. Therefore, it was agreed to adopt the last Qatar International Rally as a positive model to be applied to rest of the MERC rallies. The attendees discussed as well ways to prevent any attempt to bypass the laws on the tracks of cross-country rallies. Furthermore, all the participants underscored the importance of having a Baja Cross-Country Championship organized particularly in the North Africa region and the need to activate such a championship by attracting a significant number of competitors, so as to allow it to grow to reach a size comparable to that of international championships. They also agreed that all this could only be achieved through joint action by organizers, participants and media.
The FIA accredited training team explained the mechanism according to which ASNs could apply for FIA support and the modalities of this mechanism, with the help of FIA representatives who were ready to answer any enquiries by attendees. In fact, in order to benefit from the support of the FIA, the ASN is required to submit a thorough study of prospective activities pertaining to the races and championships it organizes. Then, the FIA takes the appropriate decision after consideration of the aforementioned study.
The participants reflected on ways to establish a comprehensive plan aiming at promoting women’s role by engaging women in organizational and logistical affairs, in addition to their participation in races and championships organized in the MENA region. They also touched upon the need to infuse new blood into the MERC, at the competitors’ level, through the establishment of a MENA commission responsible for identifying rally cars that are no longer participating in the rallies and contacting the concerned clubs, in order to find means to rehabilitate them and bring them back to the MERC. In this context, safety and security were underscored as the primary factors to be focused on in the trend, along with trainings on how to prevent expected hazards, minimize race accidents and deal with accidents and risks when they occur. The ASN representatives suggested the creation of a committee to discuss the best suggested tracks in Egypt for the MERC candidate event. The choice of the venue will be made between Sharm El-Sheikh and Gardaia, based on considerations related to how easy it is to ship equipment and logistical supplies by land to the suggested locations. In addition, the participants asserted that no club or organizing body is allowed to organize any activity whatsoever without the formal approval of the FIA or the concerned ASN.
The General Secretary of the Saudi Arabian Motor Federation, Nayef Al-Hegelan, thanked the State of Kuwait for hosting this Congress, pointing to the fact that such events enriched and promoted motor sport in the region, especially that the current rapprochement with the FIA raised the level of awareness among motor sport practitioners in the MENA region. Concerning motor sport in Saudi Arabia, Al-Hegelan said: “In the Kingdom, we are restarting from square one. We are founding new age categories and local championships”, adding that a restructuring process was underway after securing all the necessary resources, especially human resources. “We are serious about supporting the youth. We have important plans and unrestricted ambitions. We hope to participate in international championships and establish Saudi teams”, he stated, while indicating that the Saudi Arabian Federation encompassed 5000 members and that this number was continuously growing, considering the passion Saudi youth have for motor sport, a sport that is today competing with football in the country.
From his side, Baham Lekhal, the President of the Mauritanian Federation for Motorsport, underlined the significance of the Congress and its importance for the MENA countries, especially that it is attended by 19 FIA member countries out of 21. He expressed his hope to see the Congress come up with decisions and recommendations that would contribute to the support and development of motor sport in the region, pointing to the momentum given to the event by the presence of the FIA President Jean Todt. Asked about Baja rallies, Lekhal said that preparations were underway to organize a Baja championship in North Africa.
Moreover, Counselor Adel Abdel Baki, Chairman of the Automobile and Touring Club of Egypt, asserted that the last two years had witnessed an outstanding action in the region, noting that the current Congress has secured an unprecedented active participation, especially that it has put clubs and federations in direct contact with the FIA and considered the mechanism according to which ASNs could seek the FIA logistical support to organize championships and train drivers. According to Abdel Baki who mentioned the advantages of having regional training centers in Dubai and Qatar, the Congress includes real training workshops that are highly beneficial for the participants.
In addition, Hassan Rabih, member of the Automobile and Touring Club of Egypt, noted that Egypt started to take advantage from the FIA expertise two years ago with the presence of FIA trainers who trained the country’s organizers and competitors on the rules and procedures related to the organization of races. According to Rabih, the trainings were useful and their outcomes were applied on the ground, which was clearly reflected on the circuits, in terms of safety and rescue measures and hazard prevention. He indicated that Egypt also benefitted from the refereeing expertise of the FIA in local drifting competitions and rallies, as well as in the Pharaohs Rally which will be held next September. From his side, Mohammad Gamal, member of the same club, declared: “We are seeking the necessary technical support from the FIA to organize championships”. He mentioned that Egypt would take part in the organization of the Baja Championship in North Africa, which will kick off from Egypt, noting that this type of championships is totally new to the region.
Engineer Masaud Jerbi, Board member of the Libyan Automobile and Touring Club emphasized that such meetings represented an opportunity to exchange views and ideas and that these training workshops were badly needed in the MENA region, considering their significant advantages. As per Jerbi, these conferences encourage young people and the FIA to revitalize sports activities in the region and build regional capacities and abilities.
In addition, the Secretary General of the Moroccan Royal Federation of Motor Sport and member of the FIA Rally Commission, Jamal Zakaria, stated that Morocco was prepared to host the 4th MENA Congress, the second of the year 2015, to be held next September or October, noting that Morocco was one of the first countries to have organized rallies and hosted sports activities. He also thanked Mr. Nasser Bin Khalifa Al-Attiyah for his confidence in Morocco, reflected in its selection as a venue for the next congress.
Abu Obeida Mubark Alhaj, Director General of the Sudanese Automobile and Touring Club, who is participating for the first time to this Congress, praised the State of Kuwait for hosting an event characterized by a strong and active participation by all member countries. He described the Congress as a good step to move forward, acquire skills, communicate with other countries and take decisions in the best interest of the MENA countries, especially with the attendance of the FIA President Jean Todt and the FIA Vice-President Mr. Nasser Bin Khalifa Al-Attiyah. With regards to motor sport in Sudan, Alhaj said that it was still in its early stages, expecting a big support from the FIA and the MENA, especially with the intensive efforts deployed by Mr. Nasser Bin Khalifa Al-Attiyah.
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