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.”