It had to happen sooner or later and this year, it finally did – the moment when international politics and terrorism crosses over into the “grey area” of international sport. This time the victim was Portuguese driver Jose Ribeiro, who had half his foot blown off by a land mine planted, it is supposed, by Polisario guerrillas. The driver was rushed to Las Palmas and his foot was partially reconstructed, which should allow him to walk in future…but leaves him with only half a foot. The danger to public health could have been worse and to date, no lives have been lost but the point is that they could have been and once again, we see the threshold between sport and fraternity on one hand and violence, destruction and hatred on the other. Ribeiro says he is furious with the organisers of Paris-Dakar, a rally which takes place every year, starting from Paris and running through France and Spain, crossing the Straights of Gibraltar and continuing in Nador (Morocco), proceeding south through Western Sahara (under administration by Morocco and Mauritania), then on through Mauritania and finishing in Dakar, Senegal. There are separate competitions for cars, motorbikes and trucks. The Polisario Liberation Front wants an independent state in Western Sahara and has threatened to turn this rally into a political statement for some years now. The problem started when in November, 1975, the colonial power, Spain, left the territory and divided it between Morocco and Mauritania, without consulting the Saraui people who lived there. On 27th February, 1976, the Democratic Arab Saraui Republic was proclaimed and since then the Polisario Liberation Front has been fighting Morocco and Mauritania. This year, the Portuguese driver was the victim, an innocent sportsman at the wrong time, certainly. Whether or not he was in the wrong place…is open to debate.
TIMOTHY BANCROFT-HINCHEY Pravda.Ru Lisbon
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