drone racing league

Drone Racing League’s 2018 world championships are in one of the world’s most unfriendly countries to women

The Drone Racing League (DRL) announced the location of its 2018 DRL Allianz World Championship — and it’s located in one of the most unfriendly countries in the world toward women.

The 2018 championship races will play out in Saudi Arabia in September next year.

Saudi Arabia consistently ranks among the worst countries in the world for female travelers and workers. It was named one of Global Citizen’s “Five Worst Countries to Be a Woman” and No. 1 in “U.S. News and World Report’s 10 Worst Countries for Gender Equality.”

Adult women in Saudi Arabia must obtain permission from a male guardian—usually a husband, father, brother, or son—to travel, according to Human Rights Watch. Women must also be completely covered while in the country, cannot wear pants and are pressured to wear a full-length black covering called an abaya. Women traveling alone are not allowed to enter the country unless they will be met at the airport by a husband, a sponsor or male relative, and must also receive permission to leave. Women in restaurants not accompanied by a male relative often are not served, and a woman traveling with a man who is not her husband, sponsor or a male relative can be arrested.

Saudi Arabia is also extremely unfriendly to people who are gay, lesbian and transgender. Homosexuality and cross-dressing are illegal in the country.

In other words, it looks to be nearly impossible for female and openly LGBT racers or spectators to be a part of the 2018 world championships.

DRL, which bills itself as the world’s premier drone racing circuit, responded with the following statement:

“We firmly believe that drone racing is a global professional sport open to all genders, physical abilities and cultures and it is one of the most critical virtues of the sport that the greatest drone pilot on earth could be literally anyone, from anywhere,” according to a DRL spokesperson. (See the full statement from DRL at the bottom of this post).

That being said, DRL could provide no further details of how exactly they intend to act on that belief that drone racing is open to women.

DRL did not respond to specific questions as to how their female racers could travel into and through the country, and whether women would be allowed to enter the stadium to watch the live event.

“As many of your questions are best directed to GSA, we would be happy to put you in touch with them,” said Benjamin T Johnson, DRL’s Head of Business Development and Marketing. “Per the rest of your questions, the previous statement is all we’re able to provide on such short notice.”

After multiple exchanges, DRL ultimately did not explain why they chose to host their event in a country that makes it incredibly difficult for females to participate in the drone race.

It is unclear whether DRL has given any thought as to how women will be able to participate.

“Women are handicapped enough in the drone industry without adding official barriers,” said Loretta Alkalay, a drone attorney and hobby drone pilot.

Drone racing is a male-dominated industry, though it is unclear exactly why. Many suspect that there simply isn’t much interest among females to race. It could be lack of role models, a “pipeline problem,” marketing to imply racing is a male hobby, among other things. Those are all huge problems to tackle.

But there is one easy way to ensure we aren’t excluding women: not putting the 2018 DRL Allianz World Championship in a country that oppresses women.

To earn a spot on the Allianz World Championship circuit, anyone in the world over the age of 18 can be part of the eSport tournament on the DRL Simulator, according to a DRL spokesperson.

However, if women do qualify for a spot on the team, it’s unclear if they will have to travel with a male relative or husband, and who would cover that additional cost.

“It disqualifies me from the competition as I wouldn’t be able to get a male relative to accompany me,” said Zoe Stumbaugh, a drone racer and freestyle pilot. “I had hopes that DRL would include female competitors this season, but this doesn’t make me hopeful.”

That’s not to say there are no female-friendly drone races. IDRA’s Dover Race had a handful of female racers, and about 10% of the X Class racers are women.

Other women have referred to the news that the race will occur in Saudi Arabia as a “massive disappointment” and a “big fat ‘you’re not welcome here’ sign.”

The 2017 DRL Allianz World Championship took place in London’s Alexandra Palace.

Here is the full text of the official, lengthy statement from DRL:

At DRL our mission is to bring professional drone racing to as many fans and pilots around the world as we possibly can. This includes delivering the only watchable professional drone races to leading broadcast channels around the world and working to bring our races to new venues and territories. As we expand, we do so with our values of inclusion and competition at the core, bringing the best pilots, staff and technology everywhere we go. With each new market comes unique challenges that we work to address with our committed partners, sharing the goal of making the races and sport available to everyone.

DRL’s decision to host the 2018 Allianz World Championship race in Saudi Arabia was driven not only by our desire to satisfy our growing fan base in the region, but also because the GSA is making a concerted effort to bring global sports to the kingdom, by their own description, “that will also lead to wider social and economic benefits for the country.” DRL is one of many sports organizations hosting events in Saudi Arabia in 2018, including La Liga football, the automotive Race of Champions (featuring drivers from Formula1, NASCAR, Le Mans and IndyCar), the World Chess Championships, and the World Boxing Super Series. The complexities of bringing a major global sports championship to any country are numerous, and we’ll be working with the GSA to tackle each of them over the next several months.

But this venue announcement changes nothing about our league. As it has always been, DRL is an inclusive league. It is open to people of all genders, gender identities and nationalities. To date, we’ve had two seasons, and in that time we’ve had both men and women and citizens of eight countries compete in DRL. As we plan our 2018 Championship race we will work to ensure we are respectful of local cultures while ensuring our values remain uncompromised.”



  • daniellench says:

    Money is more important to DRL than inclusiveness. DRL is looking to be the next NFL with women sidelined or cheerleaders (not in SA of course). I also think the DRL sim is very lacking. Really, ESPN=$$$$

    Ask yourself this: Why do you want to be apart of DRL anyway?

    is it the winnings? the fame? the prestige? for what? exclusivity, a “members only” jacket?

    YouTube is more profitable to a skilled pilot and allows the pilot an uncensored platform for expression.

    This DRL SA mindset is in direct opposition to the communities we have seen develop over the past few years in this hobby. Ones that see people from opposite life paths intersect and develop mutually beneficial and long lasting relationships. Drone racing is the new “facebook”, where people actually leave their house and talk to each other, and meet people that they would never have otherwise. It’s bringing families closer. Encouraging STEM in youths. Driving an internationally inclusive market.

    Do women get a discount on drone parts because there are less in the sport? No, the money spends the same but the attitude needs to change.

    I personally go to schools around my home to speak with 2nd thru 5th grade about drone technology and to encourage young women to engage in STEM learning. By the 4th grade, I have seen that there are less than 10% female. I am working with the schools to try and change that number because I believe that women balance every aspect of life and we are currently on a tipping point.

    Thanks Sally for your efforts and the website, the future is female. If you don’t believe me, ask yourself where you would be without your mother. Then champion her as well as your sister. We all could use more compassion in our world.

  • It’s a disgrace that the industry has continued down this route. Three years on and this is the path it takes.

    To my knowledge the simulator route only provides for 1 of the pilots that are picked- the rest are hand picked. Flying a sim is not the same thing as flying an actual quad, and is one of the reasons I know of that at least one of their pilots doesn’t fly the DRL sim to practice on. It’s a marketing tactic for them to get people that aren’t pilots into it.

    I’m not going to spend my time as a pro pilot practicing on a simulator that limits my skills. Give me a realistic bar to practice for and I’ll reach for it- having taken 8? trophies this past year alone from various leagues! My pre-event training consists of about a month of intensive practice leading up to an event… I’ve lead multiple teams to victory… helped develop the worlds fastest ESC powering the worlds largest racing drones…. very few things in this industry I haven’t been able to accomplish when given the chance. Yet I get looked over by these leagues and my accomplishments seam to not be held in the same regard as other pilots.

    I can stand when it happens to me and say it’s an off instance, disregard it… but I’ve seen an entire group of talented women looked over while others claim that there are no women interested in drone racing… such bullshit. There are no excuses for this sort of thing to continue within the drone racing industry. This is supposed to be billed as the sport of the future, so let’s make it one that supports more than a single gender.

    When I won the first sanctioned drone race in the US I was hopeful that this sport would be one of inclusivity- it was sold to me as something that would be an equal playing field… and that I had the opportunity to be apart of it. It deeply saddens me that the biggest televised leagues for drone racing are not inclusive; as someone that wants to pursue this as a living as it has been my life for years now… it’s a clear sign I’m not welcome.

    `Zoe Stumbaugh
    AKA ZoeFPV.com

    • daniellench says:

      love you Zoe. Anyone who knows even part of your story knows your a fighter and I appreciate your contribution to the sport.

      There is no reason people should have to fight any inequality in any place. The US teams for DRL in SA should boycott the event, IMO and speaking as an american. Yes each country has it’s problems but this transcends all, and affects all. Directly targeting a person because of their how DNA is has led to such horrible oppression throughout all of history and it must stop if humanity is to move forward.


    • @Heliboy says:

      Zoe, You inspire me… The DRL doesn’t… enough said…

  • Tom says:

    I grew up in the UAE and and at least 85% of your statements on Saudi are incorrect, they have made massive reforms towards equality recently and the restrictions you have stated here do not exists, media has blown it way out of proportion as usual

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