For 2020, the Dakar Rally is moving to Saudi Arabia, leaving South America where it had spent 10 years. When that change was announced, there was much online ballyhoo, with many fans unhappy about the move to a country that’s had a lot of bad press lately over its human rights record. You can see some of the back-and-forth here.
With that in mind, there was a bit of a question mark surrounding the rally as it moved: Would competitors be expected to comply with Saudi Arabia’s strict Islamic moral code, or would they be free to more-or-less do what they want? Well, now we know.
The ASO, organizers of the Dakar Rally, have published a PDF guidebook to navigating Saudi culture. It’s published online, and tells competitors what to expect. Here’s an excerpt from Page 4 of the guide:
4) LOCAL LIFE
ALCOHOL, DRUGS AND PORK RES TRICTIONS
• The import and consumption of alcohol and pork are formally prohibited in Saudi Arabia and are subject to legal proceedings.
• Drug consumption is heavily penalized.
SE XUALIT Y
• Imported cultural products (DVDs, books, magazines…) must be compatible with local and decency laws (no explicit content). Any pornographic or
erotic content of any sort is strictly forbidden.
• Both men and women are asked to dress modestly in public, avoiding tight fitting clothing or clothes with profane language or images to respect the
local culture. Women should cover shoulders and knees in public. You should also bring warm clothes, as the temperature can drop ver y low in the
• What protocol for women working for Dakar teams?
The landscape is changing in Saudi Arabia and in many offices men and women work together. The rules of public displays of affection remain in
place. Depending on the role it is advisable to seek local advice to establish if any protocols apply to maintain respect for local customs and laws.
For women especially, clothing should not be tight fitting, unless a safety requirement, and should cover shoulders and knees in public.
• What should women be wearing?
The situation in Saudi Arabia is changing. If the wearing of abaya and hijab are no longer compulsor y for expat women, we recommend that they wear
the loose fitting abaya and the hijab headscarf in public to avoid causing offence.
• Our recommendations:
Regarding the climate in January and the local customs, we recommend :
For men: warm clothing to protect from the cold in the desert. Trousers, medium length shorts and t-shirts/shirts in the cities and the bivouacs.
For women : warm clothing to protect from the cold in the desert. Though it is not compulsor y, we recommend woman to wear abayas or modest
outfit outside the Dakar camp especially in small towns.
There are a few pages that talk about local sports interests, the economy, what to do if involved in a traffic accident, and then on Page 6, we see this:
• All social networks are free to be accessed ever ywhere.
Saudi is one of the highest countries in terms of number of users in the world per capita for social media.
• Phone calls via WhatsApp are blocked. But Skype, Facetime or Hangout calls are working perfectly
• Huge usage on mobile devices to stream video and TV.
• Access to the Internet is unrestricted, but certain websites are blocked as they go against local customs (explicit content).
And then on Pages 8 and 9, under the FAQ sections:
• Can I be open about my sexual orientation?
Whatever your sexual orientation, Saudi Arabia remains a largely
conservative countr y where public displays of affection can cause
offence to public decency and can lead to arrest, like many countries
across the Gulf. Discretion and respect is advised for all.
• Does Saudi Arabia now want to promote female drivers,
or only mention inclusion?
In hosting Dakar rally, a national event of great importance, Saudi
Arabia is showing its support for motorsport and will be using the
occasion to promote drivers and road safety to all, men and women.
Saudi Arabia welcomes all drivers and will support all initiatives and
activities regardless of gender.
• Are there any specific guidelines to give female media/staff/
guests prior to arrival in Saudi Arabia?
Dress modestly in line with local customs, avoid public displays of
affection. While segregation still remains in some local restaurants,
in many international hotels it is perfectly permissible to eat and have
meetings with male colleagues.
For men and women, drugs are strictly illegal and use or supply could
leave to arrest and severe punishment, including the death penalty.
• Are individuals allowed to show tattoos ?
Keeping in mind cultural sensitivities, tattoos that do not depict
explicit images/phrases will be tolerated within reason.
• In video assets, what cannot be shown either on TV, or on giant
screens at event?
Inappropriate behaviour such as public drinking or displays of
affection should be removed. Women featured should be modestly
dressed, not it tight fitting or revealing clothes. As per many
international sports and events, tabaco and alcohol advertising is not
permitted. The event will cater for all members of society and families
will attend in large numbers. Assets should target a family fan base.
• Are women allowed to be shown on videos and photos?
Yes of course. Women featured should be modestly dressed, not in
tight fitting or revealing clothes. Photos or videos of a group of people
can be taken. Be careful with portraits. You need an approval from the
women before taking it.
• Are individuals allowed to take photos on public spaces ?
What is the policy regarding that?
Unless stated otherwise, images of scener y and places are allowed,
but individuals (particularly females) should not be photographed to to
avoid any problems.
If you’re curious, you can see the rest of the ASO’s guide here.