Police rule out criminal element in Dakar explosion

A Sodicars Racing buggy. Picture: Sodicars Racing Facebook

Local police claim that there is no suspicion of criminal activity in the car explosion which has forced a would-be Dakar competitor into surgery.

Philippe Boutron, who was entered in a buggy with the Sodicars Racing team, sustained leg injuries in the blast which took place just outside Jeddah’s Donatello Hotel on December 30 (local time) while the rest of the passengers were unharmed.

Updates from Dakar organisers began to filter through to competitors during the prologue in the form of two press releases which represented safety alerts to those on the tour.

The Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), which runs Dakar, promised to bolster security measures for the remainder of the event, while rally director David Castera told French television that they “can’t rule out an act of malice”.

Makkah Police, however, have dismissed the possibility of a criminal element after preliminary investigations, according to a statement released through the Saudi Press Agency entitled, ‘Makkah Police: No Criminal Suspicion in Accident of a Supportive Work Team Vehicle for One of Drivers Participating in 2022 Dakar Rally’.

That announcement from the state media body reads, in full: “The media spokesman of Makkah region police stated that the relevant security authorities in the region launched an investigation on Thursday 30/12/2021 into an accident of a vehicle belonging to the supportive work team for one of the drivers participating in the 2022 Dakar Rally race in Jeddah, which included five French National passengers, one of whom was injured and taken to the hospital to receive the necessary medical care, while the rest were unharmed.

“He noted that the preliminary investigations revealed that there was no criminal suspicion in the accident.”

Boutron was said by Castera to have suffered “a very serious leg injury” but is due to be repatriated to his native France, where he is president of third-tier football club US (‘Union Sportive’) Orleans.

The surgery took place in a military hospital in Jeddah, and Sodicars Racing has advised that the injury relates to largely to his calf.

Official statements vary as to whether the car in question contained five or six passengers at the time, although all other than Boutron were “unscathed” according to an ASO statement.

It was only days ago that Castera defended the holding of the Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia, a nation notorious for its human rights record.

Critics say that the staging of major sporting events, including last year’s inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix and football’s Supercopa de España (‘Spanish Super Cup’), represent ‘sportwashing’.

Castera, however, reasoned that the presence of such events can be a force for good in such nations.

“I think that Formula 1, football, Extreme E, as well as the rest… Saudi Arabia has made a choice to open up via sport,” he said.

“Must we turn our back because not everything is as we wish it to be? I think that would be worse.

“This morning I was delighted to be beside a car with two women inside it, today I have two Saudi women at the start line of the Dakar.

“You can debate the point [of being here].

“But I believe that bringing all these people here a few years ago would have been unthinkable.

“There is the beginnings of an opening up of the country and to turn one’s back on countries like these would see them turn in on themselves even more.”

Dakar moved to Saudi Arabia in 2020, when the final stage was cut short after it was discovered that construction work for a gas pipeline would get in the way.

The 2021 edition got away despite difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and this year’s event is underway with the completion of Stage 1A, otherwise known as the prologue.

Australian Daniel Sanders leads the way in the Bikes for GasGas Factory Racing in just his second Dakar campaign, while three-time champion Nasser Al-Attiyah holds sway in Cars in his factory Toyota Hilux.

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