Recurring discord plagues the Safari

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What would be the reaction, we wonder, if some international body were allowed to decide whether Wimbledon could remain a venue for international tennis, or whether Arms Park was still suitable for Triple Crown matches. Unthinkable, isn’t it? Just as ludicrous is the World Rally Championship situation in which a unique event such as the Marlboro Safari Rally is never really sure of its continuing status as a series qualifier until FISA announces its selection.

Everyone who supports the Safari, which contrasts considerably with European-style events, feels that its continued status as part of the series should be above question. But no rally, whatever its calibre, is immune from the affects of FISA politics, so when the 1989 championship calendar was published, there was relief in Nairobi when the list included the Kenyan event.

However, the relief was tinged with concern, for once again the start date was listed as a Saturday, not the traditional Thursday before Easter, and this would have given the organisers an enormous and unnecessary extra workload, not to mention the headache of finding enough volunteer officials able to work during the two days after Easter, into which the rally would have extended.

Last year FISA did the same thing, on the grounds that a Thursday start would give competing teams too little preparation time between the Portuguese Rally and the Safari. What difference two days would make we cannot imagine. All manner of representations were made, but it was not until the very last moment that Paris decided to allow a Thursday start, by which time all the visiting teams were already in Kenya. Needless to say, they all welcomed the return to tradition.

The change of dates was one thing. The uncertainty, was another, and the organisers had to plan for both possibilities. A Saturday-to-Wednesday event, extending into normal working days, could not have the same timetable as a Thursday-to-Monday event, spanning only a public holiday.

The organisers even produced two separate timetables, one for a Thursday start and one for a Saturday. In theory, they could use the same timing, but in practice they could not. The former, for instance, included a nine-and-a-half-hour rest stop at Kaltamega during the Saturday night, but the equivalent stop (during Monday night) for the Saturday start was extended to eighteen-and-a-half hours in order that the rally would not take to the road in a populated part of the country at a time when industrial traffic would be at its most concentrated on the first day after the holiday.

Most organisers can get on with the job of planning their itineraries and timetables without such interference, but this is now the second year in which Mike Doughty has been forced into making two versions of everything. The body to whom national clubs are affiliated is supposed to be supportive, not obstructive.

The uncertainty concerning the start and finish dates of this year’s Safari ended before Christmas when FISA agreed to a Thursday start, so at least the needless dispute was resolved earlier than it was last year. But then came more discord. An English journalist complained to FISA about the requirement that anyone filming the Safari would have to be accompanied on location by an official of Kenya’s Ministry of Information, and urged FISA to demand that the rally organisers take steps to have this scrubbed.

Filming licences are expensive in Kenya, and to be accompanied (at extra cost) by a government official would be a highly inconvenient burden for those who are used to making snap decisions about their movements without reference to passengers who are effectively no more than ballast. But it does happen to be the law of the land, against which FISA carries no weight whatsoever. That journalist might have better served the rally, and his colleagues, had he written to the rally organisers instead of providing another ill-conceived bullet for Paris to fire at Nairobi.

The rule that cameramen be accompanied is not new, but in the past it has not been enforced during the Safari. The organisers are endeavouring to arrange the same for this year, but if they are unsuccessful then film-makers will have that complaining journalist to thank for their inconvenience. Had he not gone about things the wrong way, and stirred a hornets’ nest without need, the matter would very likely have been smoothly and quietly resolved. GP

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