The 2021 World Rally Championships Safari Rally got under way yesterday at Kenyatta International Convention Centre, bringing forth memories of the yesteryears' wet Easter holiday. President Uhuru Kenyatta flagged off 58 cars, putting it back in the WRC after 19 years.
When President Kenyatta came to power in 2013, he promised to bring the event back in the WRC fold. But it had to wait until 2015, when International Automobile Federation ((FIA) president Jean Todt came to Kenya and met the President and Kenya Motor Sports Federation (KMSF) officials. The Sports ministry set aside Sh100 million to lay the groundwork for it.
Todt visited the country again in 2016 and pledged FIA support to Kenya's bid but on tight conditions. And in 2017, the government set aside Sh250 million in the Budget to kick-start the bid and gazetted the WRC Safari Rally Project team with offices at Moi International Sports Complex, Kasarani.
And yesterday, the dream finally came true, thanks mainly to the efforts of President Kenyatta, Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed and KMSF chairman Phineas Kimathi.
Kenya is set to benefit immensely with millions of people worldwide following the Safari Rally live on television and virtually. With an estimated global TV audience of 825 million and 15 billion online impressions, the event will help to market Kenya as a top tourist destination. The country will also reap big from sports tourism as volunteers, spectators, technical officials and support teams are deployed. Precisely, Sh6 billion in foreign currency will be injected into the economy.
However, the government must ensure that the homegrown rally remains in the WRC and ensure that other sporting events flourish. The Kenya Open Golf Championship and Savannah Classic are both European Tour events and Kip Keino Classic a World Athletics Tour event. Kenya will host the World Athletics Under-20 Championships on August 17-22.
The success of these events will boost Kenya's chances of winning its bid to host the 2023 World Athletics Championships and other international events, boosting sports tourism.