April 2015

Is Bolivia Ready for the Dakar Rally?

On January 10th – 12th, hundreds of racers crossed the Salar de Uyuni in the annual Dakar Rally, which is coming to Bolivia for the second consecutive time – but is Bolivia ready for such big events?

By: Victor Risager
Projects Abroad Volunteer
Dianalund Denmark


The Dakar Rally allows knowing Bolivia by being broadcast in 190 countries around the world.
Photo: Victor Risager

Every January, hundreds of drivers from all over the world gather in South America to compete in what is widely considered the world’s toughest off-road race – the Dakar Rally. For 14 days they will race nearly 9,000 kilometers split into 13 stages across South America, the main objective being to finish with the best overall time. The Dakar Rally is divided into four categories – bikes, quads, cars, and trucks. Originally, the rally went from Paris, France to Dakar, Senegal; hence the name. It was then relocated to South America in 2009 and has been held there ever since - every year in Argentina and Chile, with Peru joining in 2012 and 2013 and Bolivia in 2014 and 2015.

2015 was the second consecutive year in which the Dakar Rally crossed through the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia. In 2014 it was only the quads and the bikes that crossed, but in 2015 the car category crossed the salt flats as well; the trucks took an alternative route.

The first time the Dakar would cross the salt flats, the Aymara Indians threatened to block the Dakar Rally as they feared the racers would damage the salt flats and that the crowd would trash the place.

The first time the Dakar would cross the salt flats, the Aymara Indians threatened to block the Dakar Rally as they feared the racers would damage the salt flats and that the crowd would trash the place. Despite the threats, the racers successfully crossed the salt flats. However, it is not only in Bolivia people have been concerned about the Dakar Rally potentially damaging national reservoirs and other ancient places – there has been much criticism towards the Dakar Rally in Chile and Peru. Although the Dakar Rally has been criticized over the years, the Bolivia’s President, Evo Morales, and the Bolivian government is very excited that the Dakar Rally has come to Bolivia.


The Salar de Uyuni: is it best place to Bolivia for receive the Dakar Rally ?
Photo: Victor Risager

So why is the government so happy that the Dakar Rally crosses through Bolivia? It has competitors and fans from all over the world and is broadcasted in 190 countries worldwide – for that reason, hundreds of thousands of people come from all over the world to watch this event. It is a huge tourism event and official data suggests that the economic impact of the 2014 Dakar Rally in Bolivia amounted to roughly 62 million dollars – and even more in 2015. According to president Evo Morales, there was a 100% increase in viewership from 2014 to 2015, as 245,000 watched the 2014 Dakar Rally in Bolivia personally.

Estimates show that approximately 500,000 people traveled to watch the 2015 Dakar Rally in Salar de Uyuni – although about 90 percent of the increase is believed to be domestic tourism. Additionally, tourism in the Uyuni area increased 500% thanks to the Dakar Rally.

Another reason the government is so thrilled about having the Dakar Rally in Bolivia is that for such an important event to successfully take place in Bolivia makes Bolivia appear internationally; more people will know about Bolivia. Finally, a main reason what makes the rally what it is, is the incredible terrain the drivers cross. More people will want to visit Bolivia not only because of the Dakar Rally, but because of the country’s beauty shown in it.


The Salar de Uyuni: is it best place to Bolivia for receive the Dakar Rally ?
Photo: Victor Risager

Nevertheless, it is not cheap for Bolivia to host this kind of event. To host the Dakar Rally, Bolivia had to invest four million dollars in 2014 and 2015. In 2014, the cost was two million dollars for the franchise and the same for promotion and organization; in 2015, it was three million dollars for the franchise to come to Bolivia and one million in promotion and organization. These investments cover things such as insurance contracts, communication, and transportation for the racers.

What do the Bolivian people think about the Dakar Rally coming to Bolivia? I interviewed five Bolivians, four men and one woman, about what they think about the Dakar Rally. I first them what they think about the Dakar coming to Bolivia, and most of them were excited to have it in Bolivia as it attracts tourists, which is good for the economy. One of the men said, “Well, I think that it is something positive because many people have come here to Bolivia to see the race and everything, and that is good for the country. They arrive with money and things like that.”


The Dakar Rally is a major event for motorsport.
Photo: Victor Risager

However, when asked whether or not it is a good idea to let a polluting event like the Dakar Rally cross through a national reservoir like Salar de Uyuni, the general tone changes. Four of the five people I interviewed did not think it was a good idea to let the Dakar Rally pass through the Salar de Uyuni, as they were concerned with tourists and crowds leaving garbage and the machines leaving marks. The woman I interviewed said, “I think it is a bad idea to have this kind of event in the Salar de Uyuni because first we don’t know exactly how long we can have this place. So, we need to take care because it is part of us. To prepare for the event we need to do many things, we need to put many things there. So, the nature in the Salar de Uyuni is losing because many people are there and many machines go there.” The last person did not think the Dakar Rally damages the Salar de Uyuni.

Finally, I asked them why they thought the government wanted the Dakar Rally to come to Bolivia. One man was concerned that people would think the government was good just because of the show and sport.

So, is Bolivia ready to host this kind of event? The woman I interviewed did not think so, “I think for the economy in Bolivia, it is good and for tourism, too. However, we need to concentrate in other problems. So, I do not think that the Dakar Rally is good for Bolivia. Bolivia is not prepared to have that kind of event.”


Sources:
www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/southamerica/bolivia/
www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/16/
www.dakar.com/dakar/2015/us/figures.html
www.radiofides.com/noticia/deportes/en-febrero-se-definira-participacion-de-bolivia-en-el-dakar-2016
spanish.peopledaily.com.cn/n/2015/0115/c31615-8836582.html
www.boliviaentusmanos.com/deportes/138526/

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