In an interview with CNN Sport, Dania Akeel reflects on her chosen profession as she prepares for her second tilt at the infamous Dakar Rally, one of the world’s longest and most demanding endurance races. Barely over two years ago, the Jeddah-born athlete had never even tried this type of racing. Not only that, Akeel also hails from a country in which women have only been allowed to drive on public roads since 2018. With women only recently able to drive on the road in Saudi Arabia, Akeel is aware that she could be seen as a role model by her countrywomen, but she is philosophical about her own path and what she might represent to others.
“I mean, I remember when I was joining the first race, I didn’t think twice about … how many women had done this? Had they been from Saudi? Not Saudi? I didn’t think too much about that because the rules say I can be there.
“You know, I have every right to be there. I have my license. I belong here. I have my car, I have my gear, I have my helmet. You know, so I meet all of the requirements. I have a full set of rights of belonging in the sport and that was what I needed.”
Akeel’s story has proven attractive to major sponsors, including the likes of Toyota and Canadian off-road specialist, Can-Am, which provided her with the all-important car.
“Dania isn’t afraid to get in there and compete with the boys in a male-dominated sport,” said Anne-Marie LaBerge, Chief Marketing Officer at BRP, which owns Can-Am, of Akeel.
“She is helping to create a path for women and future generations of young women to follow in Saudi Arabia, similarly to what Molly Taylor is doing in Australia, Cristina Gutierrez is doing in Spain, and Cory Weller is doing in the United States.
“These are women creating a path for other women to push their limits and get in the game, whatever the rules are.”
As for the challenges of Dakar itself, Akeel sees it as a learning experience, but also primarily as fun.