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Schatz: The Rally Jameel — A beautiful race in a world of madness

| Wednesday, April 6, 2022

On Sept. 26, 2017, King Salman of Saudi Arabia issued a law that would give women the right to drive. A little over a year later, over 70,000 Saudi women were issued a driver’s license. By June 24, 2018, women were on the road. At this point of the article, you might be wondering if you are actually reading the sports section. I assure you, you are. In the same year women were allowed to drive, the Rally Jameel was created. Now, five years later, the Rally Jameel marked the beginning of female motorsports in the kingdom.   

What is the Rally Jameel 

The Rally Jameel (translating to ‘beautiful’ in Arabic) is a car rally that travels over 687 miles, including about 212 off-road. In the first all-women’s race in Saudi, two women and a Stella III EVO rally computer made up each team. Each team mounted the Stella on their dashboard, and it tracked each team’s speed and location. The rally took place over three days (March 16-19), and each day marked a new stage. When a racer approached a waypoint, the Stella would open, but the only way to secure the points was if the car were closer than 100 yards from the bullseye.

The race kicks off in the city of Hail with Prince Abdulaziz bin Saad bin Abdulaziz waving the green flag. From there, the women — many of whom have never driven off-road before — were off! The rally took the racers through central Saudi, passing through Al-Qassi. The finish line lay in the kingdom’s capital, Riyadh.

Unlike most rallies, the Rally Jameel imposed a speed limit of 70 kph (around 45 mph) off-road. As the inaugural race, and one which had a majority of women who were just learning to drive, the creators knew that safety would be on the utmost of priorities. In addition, if these women were racing at a higher speed, they’d need to introduce race cars. However, with a mission of empowering women and increasing accessibility, the Rally Jameel allowed racers to only use unmodified SUVs. 

The Racers 

34 teams from 15 different countries participated in the rally. 24 teams had at least one member from Saudi and 18 teams were fully Saudi. Some of the other countries that participated were the U.S., the U.K., Germany, Sweden and Poland.

The Sweden Challenge, a team composed of two Swedes, Annie Seel and Mikaela Ahlin-Kottulinskey, clutched first place with 2166.590 total points. They were followed by team Galaxy, an American and a member of the United Arab Emirates. MIN ARD ALSAHRAA, composed of a Spaniard and the top Saudi competitor, Maha Al Hamly, finished third. Although in general, the Saudi women did worse in the competition, it is important to remember that a majority of these women were learning how to drive using their son’s video games prior to 2017. Most of the Saudi women drove off-road and in a rally for the first time at the Rally Al-Jameel. 

Moving Onward

Yes, this was a big step for women in Saudi Arabia and I do believe we should cheer it on. However, with a freedom score of seven out of 100, this small step does not look excellent on a grander scale. Women’s rights activists were inhumanely tortured and arrested. In addition, the guardianship system is still in place. The guardianship program ensures that a woman at birth is property of her father until she is married. Then she becomes the property of her husband. 

The rally’s About Us page claims that “it is concerned with the need for a successful and civilized society to encourage and empower all members of society, especially women. Therefore, empowering women is among the most important objectives of the vision.” So yes, the Rally Jameel is one huge step for women, and I do not doubt that this is true. However, only months after women could get their licenses, journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed by the Saudi government.

The Rally is one major step for women in a country where so many are not free, but a sporting event blessed by the Prince can not be the reason we turn our eyes on the other human rights atrocities across the kingdom.


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