The Dakar rally was due to get under way in South America yesterday, amid concern about the potential damage that the 8,400km trek through Peru and Chile could cause to the local environment.
Organizers, the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), have already had to reject claims that the 459 cars, bikes, trucks and quad bikes taking part in this year’s edition will cause irreparable harm to ancient archeological sites.
ASO, which also organizes cycling’s most prestigious and gruelling race, the Tour de France, is becoming used to dealing with such questions, as sport in general is increasingly scrutinized about its “green” credentials.
The Dakar rally first revealed its carbon footprint in 2007, trumpeting the fact that the 43,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases it produced was nearly a quarter of that emitted by the French Open tennis tournament (156,000 tonnes).
Motorsport and in particular Formula One — long demonized because of its reliance on fossil fuels — has led the way in publicizing environmental attributes.
“We’ve got this image of waste, but we don’t pollute any more than other events,” said Bernard Niclot, technical director at the International Automobile Federation (FIA) governing body.
FIA president Jean Todt, who formerly led the Ferrari F1 team, has been at the forefront of attempts to use renewable energy sources and staging quieter, more fuel-efficient races.
Next year will see the launch of Formula E, with single-seater electric cars racing at speeds of up to 180kph on city circuits.
Fuel limits will also be introduced in 2014 in endurance racing, following on from existing restrictions on wind tunnel tests, plus the number of engines and gearboxes available for drivers.
The Formula One Teams Association (FOTA) aims to reduce its overall carbon footprint by 15 percent in the coming years.
The use of artificial snow and tree felling in ski resorts or heavy water consumption on golf courses have long been targets for environmental campaigners.
However, even apparently “green” sports cannot afford to rest on their laurels.
In 2009, there was outrage after images were shown of about 20 tonnes of rubbish left on Mont Ventoux after the advertising caravan on the Tour de France came through, distributing free gifts to fans.
About 50 tonnes of rubbish was produced during the 2011 New York Marathon, while about 20,000 of the 47,000 participants came from abroad, most of them by high polluting air travel.