Rallying: Marathon to miss out Iran

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THE LOMBARD London to Sydney marathon, which starts next month, has been rerouted to avoid Iran because of fears for the safety of the 250 competitors and officials.

The event director Nick Brittan decided to make the 11th-hour switch after he and his assistant, Mike Summerfield, were refused permission to leave Iran and enter Russia following their final road survey. Appeals to the minister of foreign affairs in Tehran to guarantee the safe passage of the event have gone unanswered.

Brittan, who eventually flew back to London, said: 'Without these specific guarantees it would be folly to take the event into Iran. Can you imagine that same situation with 110 cars and 250 people involved? It's a big disappointment for us because we must also miss out Russia, and it means a new logistical headache.'

A new route has been devised which involves taking the event from eastern Turkey directly to India. Two of the world's largest cargo planes, Russian AN124 Antonovs, with specially constructed second decks, will carry the cars in an eight-and-a-half hour flight from Ankara to Delhi. The marathon, which is a re-enactment of the 1968 London-Sydney event and open only to cars of that era, has already been rerouted several times to avoid trouble spots. Originally the trek was intended to take in Yugoslavia and enter Russia via Georgia and Azerbijan. All three countries are now war zones.