How the Dakar Rally Works

Controversy Rules

The Dakar is mesmerizing and thrilling. Competitors are treated to an array of unusual environments, including the grand sand dunes of the Atacama Desert and the awe-inspiring snow-capped Andes mountains. While the sport is exhausting and dangerous, many people rail against the rally believing it harms the environment. Not only do a thousand or so vehicles --including support trucks -- race across the landscape, but millions of spectators flock to the course each year [source: McGowan].

In 2012, Argentinean environmentalists questioned whether race officials were ignoring the environmental damage in their quest to find the most dramatic and challenging course. Environmentalists say many of these areas are not suitable for the avalanche of racers, vehicles and spectators [source: McGowan]. Llamas, flamingos and other animals are often in the way when racers cut across their habitats.

The race also motors through archaeological sites that date back thousands of years [source: Roming]. In 2009, Chile's Council on National Monuments issued a report blasting the race for causing severe damage to the archaeological sites in northern Chile. The report said racers destroyed artifacts such as arrowheads, spear points, human bones and other relics dating between 9000 B.C. and 1500 B.C. [source: Estrada].

Not only are racers damaging the environment, but environmental officials also say the drivers are breaking traffic laws on local roads. One group published a series of online pictures showing Dakar drivers running local motorists off the road [sources: McGowan; Roming].

Race organizers say they pay careful attention to preserving sensitive sites. In fact, organizers say they work with Argentinean, Chilean and Peruvian authorities when drawing up the route [source:].

Critics also charge that the rally spews a huge amount of carbon emissions into the atmosphere. For their part, race organizers say that by 2013 the rally will reduce its carbon footprint directly and indirectly linked to competitors, support crews and others. Moreover, Dakar officials, through various projects, say they have saved almost 296,526.46 acres [120,000 hectares] of Amazon rainforest in Peru [source:].

From the perspective of racing officials, the Dakar rally is throwing environmental and historical protection into high gear.