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The Dakar Rally route crossed the high-altitude salt flats of Uyuni, Bolivia for the first time this year, making some new enemies who are concerned about event's collateral damage to a fragile ecosystem. Yet Dakar organizers maintain that their initiatives do more than enough to offset the impact of the race.

You probably guessed the moving mass of vehicles that is the Dakar Rally doesn't leave a trail of butterflies over the 6,000-plus miles it covers. But an article in The Guardian last week provided some interesting insight on what kind of damage the race really does do, and who's upset about it.


It seems that the Chilean government has documented damage to "geoglyphs, protected sites, burial grounds and tracks on the Inca trail" from previous races. Chile's Council of National Monuments evaluated 283 historical sites, and deemed 44.5% had been affected by the 2011 race. But the Chileans in charge declared the tourism benefits of the event outweighed preservation concerns, and the even was green-lit for 2014.

While race fans rejoiced and geared up for thirteen stages of off-road awesomeness, residents of places the race would invade considered the ruling a terrible defeat. In Rumi Cruz, police disbanded a group of indigenous Chileans known as the Kolla who were attempting to block the competitor's path during the race.

Conservationist and indigenous groups, including Chile's Archaeologists Association, made a bid to the nation's constitutional court to block the 2014 Dakar stating it violated the "right to an uncontaminated environment." But their motion was struck down with the court citing "insufficient evidence."


The Kolla reckon the Dakar "turn[s] their communities and landscapes into a million-dollar tourist attraction aimed at a rich minority" but Chile's sports minister Gabriel Ruiz-Tagle countered by calling the rally "the only sporting competition with comprehensive environmental protection."


What he was probably referring to were the "offsets" the Amaury Sports Organization (ASO) who run the Dakar Rally claim to rendered "against all of the direct emissions" of the event through the $460,000 in donations they've made to the "Madre de Dios" foundation since 2011. That group, described as a "societal and environmental project," has apparently saved "almost 120, 000 hectares of [Peruvian] forest" slated for destruction.

Vice President of the Archaeology Association of Chile, Paola González told The Guardian that "the big problem is that public bodies that should be taking measures to protect the sites are unable to intervene, given that this other major public body [National Sports Institute of Chile] is supporting the event. The interests of the international company are overriding Chile's legal standards that supposedly exist for the protection of the country's archaeological monuments."


But the ASO says the route is agreed upon by official sanctioning bodies throughout South America, including the Council for National Monuments in and Ministery for the Environment in Chile. They also claim the Ministry for the Environment and provincial bodies in Argentina and Ministry of Culture and Environment in Boliva approve the Dakar route every year.


Are these just tree-hugging hippies pissing in the motorsport punch over nothing, or should the ASO be doing more to minimize the impact of their rolling thunder flotilla?

Images: MGPanoramico/Flickr, Cynthee/Flickr

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