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'Be Afraid': Dakar 2023 promises more dunes in Empty Quarter

The 2023 Dakar Rally promises to be one of the most challenging yet
— Paris (AFP)

"Be Afraid" is the cry for the 2023 Dakar Rally, the fourth to be held in Saudi Arabia, as organisers promised Thursday it would be the most challenging with a lot of sand dune racing.

Fifteen days of racing comprises a prologue and 14 stages, including a four-day excursion into the as yet unexplored desert of the vast Rub' al-Khali, or Empty Quarter, in the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula.

"This gigantic zone in which sand is king, especially in its most majestic form: dunes," said race director David Castera.

"'Be Afraid' seems to be the message of the route for the 2023 Dakar," added organisers.

Some 455 vehicles, with 865 competitors including defending champions Nasser al-Attiyah (car) and Sam Sunderland (motorbike), are expected at the starting line on the Red Sea before taking in 8,549km, of which 4,706km will be raced against the clock.

The 45th edition of the Dakar will run from December 31-January 15, 2023, finishing up on the kingdom's eastern sea border.

Launched in 1979 between Paris and the Senegalese capital Dakar, the celebrated endurance challenge moved to Saudi Arabia for the first time in 2020 after a decade in South America.

That sparked angry reaction from human rights organisations amid accusations of "sportswashing" -- using sport to divert attention away from not only domestic rights issues but also the Saudi-backed coalition that launched a military intervention in neighbouring Yemen in 2015 to support the beleaguered government against Iran-backed Huthi rebels.

That ongoing war has left hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced, with a large part of the Yemeni population close to famine, according to the United Nations.

A host of other sports have, like the Dakar, shelved any such concerns, with high-profile football, cycling, Formula E, Formula One and boxing events all having been staged in the country.

Saudi officials argue that such events come within the remit of the country's "Vision 2030" to increase its openness.

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