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Portuguese motorcycle rider killed during Saudi Arabia's Dakar Rally

Paulo Goncalves was one of the world's most respected motorcycle riders [Getty]

Date of publication: 13 January, 2020

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Paulo Goncalves died in a fall after seventh stage of the gruelling motorsport event, held for the first time in Saudi Arabia.
Portuguese motorcylist Paulo Goncalves died in a crash during stage seven of the Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia on Sunday, according to organisers. 

Tributes poured in for the 2013 cross-country rallies world champion, who was taking part in his 13th Dakar Rally since making his debut in 2006.

Read more: Brutal complicity: Why Joshua-Ruiz rematch must not be held in Saudi Arabia 

Honda Racing Corporation President Yoshishige Nomura described him as a "driving force for the team" with "tremendous achievments and immeasurable contribution as a Honda rider".

The 40-year-old veteran suffered a fall and went into cardiac arrest during stage seven of the gruelling endurance event, 276 kilometres away from the Saudi capital, Riyadh, towards Wadi Al Dawasir.

"The organisers recieved an alert at 10:08 and dispatched a medical helicopter that reached the biker at 10:16 and found him unconcious after going into cardiac arrest," organisers said in a statement. 

"Following resuscitation efforts in situ, the competitor was taken by helicopter to Layla Hospital, where he was sadly pronounced dead. The entire Dakar caravan would like to extend its sincere condolences to his friends and family.”

Goncalves is the first competitor to die in the motorsport event since Polish motorcycle rider Michal Hernik in Argentina in 2015, which is being held in Saudi Arabia for the first time.

Internationally-nenowned riders, drivers and crew - including two-time Formula 1 World champion Fernando Alonso - are competing in various vehicles over 12 stages.

In a project to move away from its dependence on oil revenues and commitment to ultraconservative values, Riyadh has begun investinging in new forms of entertainment, such as music and sports events, while pursuing a limited set of social reforms, including lifting a ban on women driving.

Yet in the backdrop of its continued human rights abuses - its bloody campaign in Yemen and arbitrary imprisonment and torture of women's rights activits - the events are widely seen as another exercise in "sportswashing".

Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman spearheads the kingdom's lobby in the US.

Documents released online in 2018 shed light on an agressive "sportswashing" strategy, by hosting major events - such as boxing bouts - in a public relations coup.

Riyadh has held meetings with the commissioners for Major League Soccer (MLS), Major League Baseball (MLB), as well as officials from the National Basketball Association (NBA), World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), according to The Guardian, to bring more major sporting events to the kingdom. 



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