Western Sahara
Sahara Marathon to answer Paris-Dakar provocation

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afrol.com, 22 January - The Paris-Dakar rally, going through Moroccan occupied Western Sahara, provoked the Sahrawi government (POLISARIO) and the numerous organisations supporting them. Now, organisations are preparing an answer - a Sahara Marathon to be organised on 27 February close to POLISARIO held Sahrawi territory, passing through three refugee camps.

Emiliano Sánchez, a Spanish business consultant who has his personal ties to Sahara after doing his military service there, is President of the newest Western Sahara support organisation in Spain, Sahara Marathon. He and his organisation is heading work of the organisation of this international event, aiming to demonstrate the broad solidarity the Sahrawi people have, also within sports.

- The idea came up after talking with Jeb Carney, an American also actively supporting Western Sahara, Sánchez explains afrol.com. "After having visited the Sahrawi refugee camps, he proposed to take action which could help achieving focus on the refugees' situation. Organising a marathon initially might seem somewhat crazy, but the concept is beginning to take shape as we are several organisations working together with the same aim."

The groups participating in the organisation of the marathon are the National Union of Sahrawi Women, Shelter Now, News Information Management Services, U.S. Western Sahara Foundation and Sahara Marathon España. "These are all non-profit NGOs, now united by the common aim of organising a marathon in Sahara on 27 February with the participation of international runners," says Sánchez.

Precautions are already made to meet the sports requirements. A main course of the 42.195 kilometres a marathon consists of is already prepared. To enable as many runners as possible to participate, two alternative routes of 5 and 10 kilometres are also being prepared. The race course has been rigorously controlled to prepare for a possible check by sports organisations and to eleminate security risks.

The race will begin with a ceremony in L'Ayoun camp, south of the Algerian town of Tindouf. Here runners will head south into open desert through loose and compact sand toward the Aoserd camp, the half-marathon starting line. Hardy runners will continue along the main sand road through the camp into valleys and plateaus for 21 more kilometres to the finish line in the S'mara camp. Security arrangements are tight, with abundant bottled water stations, food and medical tents, placing of landmarks and Land Cruisers guarding the course.

The international society so far has responded far more positive than the organisations had expected. "Here in Spain, we are noting supportive applause from the most important Marathon runners, like Martin Fiz, Fabian Roncero, Benito Ortega, Ron Hill and many, many more. It is fantastic to observe the noble acts and honesty of some many sportsmen and women. The initiative shows that the Spanish society is supporting us and that all the Spanish people is agreeing on the Sahara issue." Spain was Western Sahara's colonial power until it let Morocco take over control in 1975 in a move much criticised by the national and international community.

In Spain, the wide support from all parts of society can almost be seen as a making up for the injustice Spain indirectly has caused the Sahrawi people. Not only are there regional and local Sahara committees throughout the country helping to give the Marathon publicity, also the Spanish press is demonstrating its support. Spain's leading newspaper "El Mundo" has dedicated a special web page to the Sahara Marathon, and the broadcasting and Internet media are giving the event much attention and publicity.

Through the National Union of Sahrawi Women, the POLISARIO government is supporting the arrangement without being one of the organisers. The organisers emphasize on making it a humanitarian event, not a political event.

The Sahara Marathon can in many ways be seen as a Sahrawi answer to the provoking Paris-Dakar rally passing through Moroccan occupied Western Sahara earlier this month. Sánchez states that "sports have always been events of unification, integration and overcoming of limits. When a rally is used to justify such a bloody invasion, it looses its intrinsic values, becoming only an event of violence and propaganda."

The POLISARIO, thus noting that "sports should not give support to the right of might," warned participants about their security. "Morocco and the organisers of the Rally ... will be the only ones responsible for any consequences that might ensue," a statement said. It took the UN much lobbying to keep the POLISARIO from breaking the 10-year-old cease-fire. The UN special representative had to issue a statement giving guarantees that the "sporting event [not] in any way constitutes recognition of the sovereignty of either side over the Territory." POLISARIO did not hinder the participants in passing through Sahara.

Sánchez notes the paradox that many of the participants of the Paris-Dakar rally became aware of the provocation and gave their support in a personal and discrete manner. "The rally will gain more success and universal recognition when its organisers take note of collaborating with those invading the land of a pacific people is simply a shame." 

The 27 February sports event will demonstrate that the opposite forces gain at least as much support. The organisers have ensured a program that will put the focus on the 185,000 Sahrawi refugees living in the Algerian dessert. This Sahara sporting event will have more a character of a public rejoicing than the last one.

Runners interested participating in the adventurous Sahara Marathon should contact the organisation through its web page, www.saharamarathon.org.

Source: Based on UN  sources and POLISARIO

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