It is a well-known fact that every large international cultural or sporting event is accounted for by not only the national prestige, but also a solid unity of the political and economic relations of the participating states. Joint holidays and sports competitions reflect the current situation in their relations, promote strengthening the ties and resolving disagreements between the peoples and their leaders; and they also become platforms for high level meetings and negotiations.
The international Silk Way Rally marathon may serve as an example of a sporting event reflecting the course of political and economic events in Eurasia.
It is a long motor rally taking place in Russia and other Eurasian states. The member state teams compete for becoming the first to cover the distance between the two locations several thousands of kilometres apart. The competition is held in several categories: trucks, off-road vehicles and motorcycles. The race takes many days; the route lies partially on off-road terrain, partially on public roads. At the same time, while on the public roads, the participants are obliged to follow all traffic regulations, including high-speed restrictions, and the “race” in the usual sense of the word is held only on specially allocated “sports” sections. Therefore, winning requires not only extreme driving skills, but also discipline, concentration and ability to manage one’s time and to adhere to the schedule.
The first Silk Way Rally took place in September 2009 in the territory of Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. In ancient times, there was the Great Silk Way across these lands, which is where the motor rally got its name. The leaders of the three countries – the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, the president of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev and the president of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov – initiated the competition. It was emphasised that this was not merely a sports competition, but a symbol of the long-lasting and strong friendly relations connecting the peoples of the three states.
It should be noted that, as of 2001, Russia and Kazakhstan were members of the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC), the international organisation whose purpose was the economic and humanitarian integration of the Eurasian states (in 2014, the organisation ceased to exist, and on its basis the EAEU, the Eurasian Economic Union, was created). The idea of an international Eurasian motor rally was perfectly in line with these objectives.
Contestants from 25 countries on 51 off-road vehicles and 20 trucks participated in the competitions. The motor rally started in Kazan (Russian Federation), passed through the Kazakh cities of Uralsk, Beyneu and Zhanaozen, the Turkmen Turkmenbashi and ended in Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan. The drivers had to go through the Ustyurt plateau and the Kara Kum Desert, more than one third of the way went through the so-called “heavy sands.” The total length amounted to 4,628 km and took 8 days to complete.
Spain won in the category of off-road vehicles, the Russian team KAMAZ-Master performing on KAMAZ vehicles won in the trucks category. For the Russian Federation, the Silk Way Rally also presented a good opportunity to once again demonstrate the advantages of the trucks of this famous Russian brand.
In addition, the rally draws public attention to one of the main objectives of the Eurasian integration enthusiasts: the development of transport infrastructure, the creation of a uniform network of automobile roads and railways covering the whole continent. Beside the EAEU countries, China set this objective as well inspired by the very same Great Silk Way connecting the East and the West of the Eurasian continent in ancient times. In September 2013, the leader of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping came forward with the initiative called the New Silk Way (NSW) envisioning the association and development of the main overland routes of Eurasia and the construction of new roads for the creation of a uniform continental transport system. As well as at its ancient predecessor, the main direction of the NSW would be from the East to the West.
Russia and other countries of EurAsEC approved the Chinese project with enthusiasm and decided to take part. Their own transport systems fit in the NSW well. Thus, it was decided to make the Russian Trans-Siberian Railway (the longest railroad in the world connecting Moscow and the Far East of Russia) one of the main branches of the system.
In spite of the fact that railroads are primarily critical for the NSW, it also values the automobile road networks, so the Russian sports automobile project named the Silk Way and its objectives similar to those of the Chinese NSW easily drew the attention of the Chinese.
In 2016 the PRC became one of the main organizers of the Silk Way Rally and provided great support to the event’s development. The 2016 Silk Way Rally route lay from Moscow to Beijing through Kazakhstan, and the greater part of the route, which comprised more than 10,000 km, lay across the Chinese territory. The motor rally lasted 10 days, with 1,100 people (including the team members such as navigators, mechanics, etc.) from 41 countries of the world participating.
In order to acknowledge the contribution of the People’s Republic of China to the work on the motor rally, as well as the importance of this country for the Eurasian integration, in 2016, it was decided to give the Silk Way Rally an emblem of the white tiger who inhabits both Russia and China. People of the Celestial Empire consider it a sacred animal, a symbol of courage and protection against external threats.
The 2019 Silk Way Rally marathon took place on July 6-16, 2019. The route of the motor rally began in the Russian city of Irkutsk, passed by Lake Baikal, the deepest lake in the world, went through the Siberian taiga, across the Mongolian prairies, the capital of Mongolia Ulaanbaatar, and then through the Gobi Desert. The Chinese city of Dunhuang became the final destination. For the first time ever, the contestants competed on motorcycles and quadrocycles.
The anniversary motor rally became triumphal for the Russian contestants. In the category of trucks, four crews of the KAMAZ-Master team took all the top three prize-winning places and the fourth place as well.
The Silk Way Rally marathon continues to gain popularity. The routes become more and more interesting, and the contestants more and more skilled. In 2019, the motor rally was broadcast by TV channels of 190 countries of the world, drawing attention of a huge number of people to the achievements of the automotive industry of the member states, to the beauty of the local nature and the environmental issues, as well as to the Eurasian integration concept. Like many other similar events, the Silk Way Rally can make a considerable contribution to strengthening the friendship between the states of Eurasia and to the development of their cooperation.
Dmitry Bokarev, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.