Organizers of the annual Race Of Champions have made a bold decision to hold the next race in Saudi Arabia, a country known for numerous human rights abuses.
Women aren’t even allowed to drive in the country, though the asinine ban is finally set to be lifted in 2018. ROC organizers go so far as to mention the lifting of the ban as one of the motivations for holding the next race in Saudi Arabia.
“With women able to drive in Saudi Arabia from 2018, we feel this is an auspicious moment to be bringing a motorsport event to [Saudi Arabia],” ROC President Fredrik Johnsson said in a statement. “Race Of Champions is more than just a race—it is a truly global contest that includes many of the world’s best drivers along with top-quality entertainment for families.”
The Saudi race will be held in early 2018 at the King Fahd International Stadium, located in the capital Riyadh. It will be the first time in the ROC’s 30-year history that one of the races is being held in the Middle East. This year’s race, won by Juan Pablo Montoya, was held in Miami, Florida.
For the uninitiated, the ROC pits top drivers from various motorsport series against each other. This is pure racing in a heads-up format. The cars are equal so it comes down to pure driving talent to take home the top spot, and a variety of vehicles are typically used ranging from spritely roadsters to high-end sports cars and sometimes even pickup trucks.
Day one of the 2-day event sees drivers battle it out against each other. Day two, however, turns drivers from the same nations into teammates as they compete to be the fastest nation at the ROC. Further details, driver announcements and exact dates for ROC’s Saudi Arabian debut will be announced shortly.
Relaxing some of its harsh laws and opening up the country to more international events is a key step in incoming leader Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud’s Vision 2030 plan, which aims to reduce the Saudi Arabia’s dependence on oil revenues. However, given the numerous human rights abuses still present, the country has a lot of reforming ahead of it.