Kenya: Safari Rally a Gift, and a Break From Daily Depressing News

Mitsubishi's Baldev Chager and Ravi Soni compete in the 22km SS 3 Soysambu stage of the 2019 Safari Rally (file photo).

A high sense of the task ahead has gripped Kenyans eight days before the start of the eagerly awaited World Rally Championship Safari Rally from June 24-27, reputedly the biggest international sporting event on the continent since the 2010 Fifa World Cup in South Africa.

Never before, not even during the 2017 World Athletics U18 Championships held in Nairobi, have corporates and government agencies come out in large numbers like they have to ride on the Safari wave which reaches a crescendo on Thursday next week when 58 drivers - 24 of them the best in the first and second tiers of the International Motorsport Federation (FIA) - line up outside Kenyatta International Convention Centre for the ceremonial start that will be beamed across global television stations.

The number of fans who will be allowed inside KICC will be limited due to the coronavirus pandemic, but Kenyans including residents of Santon, will have ringside viewing as the cars race against each other side by side in the 4km Kasarani Stadium Super Special Stage.

National carrier Kenya Airways has announced a Sh10 million sponsorship in kind to fly six drivers in the FIA Rally Star Programme targeting participants under 27 who will compete in the Safari and several other WRC rounds in Europe soon to be announced.

Youngsters McRae Kimathi, Jeremy Wahome and Hamza Anwar will drive Rally3 Ford Fiestas prepared in Poland, each of the cars will be flown in for the Safari accompanied by an engineer and mechanic. Safaricom has also given Sh17.5 million cash sponsorship for these stars of tomorrow.

Gaming firm Betika, which is splashing Sh80 million on their team of four drivers, has started a serious publicity campaign by painting most strategic locations including the Nairobi/Nakuru highway with their yellow and blue stripes.

Companies will unveil more drivers in the coming days, a great relief for their pockets considering the high cost of taking part in the Safari.

The Safari is no longer a figment of imagination. Factory teams' cars from Toyota, Ford and Hyundai are expected at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport today for testing outside the rally route.

Ambush marketers are offering all sorts of services ranging from camping to entertainment. But they are in for a rude shock.

Whereas they can do business at spectator stages this will only be limited to pre-qualified service providers. Secondly, no cooking will be allowed in spectators' areas all located inside private land.

Nonetheless, one can carry packed food. Still, no directive has been issued on spectating because of Covid-19.

The most affected are Ugandan fans who were expected to jet in until the that country went into a Covid-19 lockdown, limiting the inter-districts movement.

What for sure is going to be a disappointment is finding hotel accommodation in Naivasha and Nakuru for those who have not made reservations.

Nakuru County has prepared for an influx of visitors. Recently, the region's county government trained 500 young Kenyans on how to serve the visitors.

A lot of work is going on Kenya Wildlife Service Training Institute Service Park which will be receiving the 64 containers direct from Suswa Inland Container Depot under strict security operation aimed at making Naivasha and its environs a security zone guarded from the air and on the ground.

The Safari is indeed a gift to Kenyans. It will be a break from the depressing news on the Covid-19 situation, deaths, inflation and political noise. The Safari and its attendant fanfare is expected to give the nation a collective lift in our spirits.

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