How’s your 2021 going so far, now that we’re into July? Unfortunately, the pandemic is still with us—and because it’s affecting different regions differently, and at different times, some situations are still very tenuous. While more events are able to take place in relative epidemiological safety in 2021, strange things are still happening. Take the 2021 Silk Way Rally, which started on July 1 and will run until July 11.
The 2021 full route was announced in May, with plans to start in the Russian city of Omsk, and then take ten days to cover 3,417 miles before ending in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. The Silk Way Rally has been run annually since 2009, except of course for 2020. Since last year’s event couldn’t safely be held, rally organizers were even taking extra steps to encourage amateur and privateer racers to enter in 2021.
As a firm reminder that humanity is still grappling with this pandemic, the 2021 Silk Way Rally was already underway when a major change of plans was announced due to COVID—and also bubonic plague. Dr. Denis Protsenko is head of the Rally’s COVID-19 mitigation effort. On July 1, 2021, he submitted an official letter to the head of the SWR regarding new outbreaks of COVID-19 and bubonic plague in several provinces of western Mongolia.
SWR organizers held an emergency meeting with race stewards, as well as FIA and FIM observers. This event is, after all, a stop on the 2021 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship calendar. On July 3, organizers announced the following decision to all rally participants:
“Considering the complicated situation and force majeure related to coronavirus outbreak in Mongolia, realizing its full responsibility for the health of rally competitors and local people, the Rally Directorate decided not to cross the border from Russia to Mongolia and to use Russian selective sections to continue the 11th edition of the Silk Way Rally,” the announcement began.
“On July 4, the crews will compete on a marathon stage from Gornoaltaisk to Kosh Agach. It means that on the 3rd leg only racers are authorized to repair their vehicles – any assistance by service personnel is strictly prohibited. All service staff will stay at the Gornoaltaisk bivouac and enjoy their “rest day,” it continued.
The rally director went on to say that all bivouacs and additional infrastructure already set up by the rally in Mongolia will instead be used to help the local population fight COVID-19. The rally is also fundraising to help Mongolian health efforts at the existing bivouac, and rally organizers say they will donate additional supplies to aid those efforts across the border.
Some participants were understandably displeased at the sudden change in plans, especially since they’d already arrived at the event. Navigator Paolo Ceci expressed some anger and frustration to Moto.IT, because he felt that the bubonic plague outbreak must have been known about prior to the time that competitors were first told about it. Some participants have also reportedly pulled out of the event upon learning this news.
Restoring trust in the organizing bodies after this situation seems like it may be a difficult task. Granted, rallying disciplines are built on surmounting extreme difficulties, but we’ll have to see how this particular circumstance shakes out in the end.