There are concerns over the behaviour of some of the off-road enthusiasts who thronged the mining town of Jwaneng for yet another edition of the 1000km Toyota Desert Race (TDR) last weekend.
Mantshwabisi, as local fans commonly call the event, remains the most attended sporting event in the country with close to 200,000 spectators attending the three-day spectacle. Last weekend, South African biker, Bernhart Hofman-de Vries who was competing in the High School category, was hit by a spectator’s vehicle on Saturday morning. The vehicle entered the terrace and hit the biker just before noon leaving the young biker with a broken femur while his bike was crashed. Hofman-de Vries is hospitalised in Johannesburg.
Speaking to Mmegi Sport yesterday, Botswana Motor Sport vice president, Vincent Crosbie stated that spectators have been a menace to the competition as they put both their lives and those of the bikers in danger.
“The biggest thing is that we should respect the race, sometimes spectators do not respect the race and feel they are bigger than the race,” he said.
“As for us the bikers and drivers, it is disheartening; we put our lives in danger to entertain them, but I believe a lot of them know what to do right, but always do the wrong. It is mainly caused by their indulgence in alcohol,” he said. Crosbie further said the rowdy spectator behaviour could leave a bad impression on the event.
“This is an international event that attracts a lot of riders from across the world, but with the kind of incident they (riders) may not want to race here anymore. Nobody wants to compete where their safety is compromised. This could leave a very bad image on the race,” he said.
For his part Ross Branch, who nearly hit a spectator on his way to recording his third consecutive victory, said it was always going to be difficult to control the crowd looking at the numbers attending the event.
“For me personally that did not affect my performance and racing. (As) for the sport, we love having spectators around cheering us, but it is difficult as it is a weekend of fun with a lot of people. So it is difficult to control such a number of people, no matter how much education you give to them, they will always have it their way.
They do not listen to the marshals, the police or anyone else, but we need them for both the growth of the event and the sport,” he said. Meanwhile, three-time TDR Special Vehicle (Sandmasters) champion, Shammer Variawa of Dubai escaped a horrific accident as his vehicle caught fire in what was suspected to be a mechanical fault just before the finishing line on Saturday.
The driver, together with his navigator Zaheer Bodhaya, were unharmed as they managed to escape before the blast. At the time, Variawa was second in the FIA class and fourth in the overall standings. He was, however, leading the Dakar challenge.