Wrestling promotion to run event in Saudi Arabia despite media backlash


Source: Turki bin Abdel Muhsin Al-Asheik - Twitter

Pictured from left to right are: WWE Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon, Turki bin Abdel Muhsin Al-Asheik of Saudi Arabia’s General Sports Authority, and Executive Vice President of Talent, Live Events and Creative of WWE Paul “Triple H” Levesque.

Darius Melton, Contributing Writer

In March 2018, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) announced that they had signed a 10-year, $450 million contract with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The details of the contract required that WWE would begin running regularly-streamed events from Saudi Arabia’s major cities, starting with April’s “Greatest Royal Rumble” event in Jeddah.

When the deal was first made public earlier this spring, wrestling fans quickly began to sour on the event, and while many were upset with the show’s apparent overshadowing of WWE’s annual “WrestleMania” event that took place a few weeks prior, others took issue with the event’s location.

Though the propaganda video that WWE played in the middle of their April show focused heavily on Saudi Arabia’s then-recent passing of a law that allowed women to drive in the country, female wrestlers were not allowed to perform on that show – a call that runs quite contrary to WWE’s current progressive campaigns.

Scrutiny of WWE’s dealings with Saudi Arabia has only gotten stronger since then, as the recent murder of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi has made headlines worldwide. The wrestling promotion’s next big event, “Crown Jewel,” is set to go live in Riyadh on Friday, and media outlets have been pressuring WWE to cancel the show or move it to another venue for weeks.

According to an report by Ringside News, wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer reported on his radio show, Wrestling Observer Radio, that he was told that WWE officials were very adamant about sticking to their contractual obligations with Saudi Arabia.

“I mean they’ll pull out if they have to pull out, but it was going to take a lot to pull them out,” Meltzer explained. “I was told it would take [President] Trump or government officials and there is something in that thing that’s out there.”

Since making this claim, President Trump has refrained from outright barring WWE from making the trip to Saudi Arabia, but with fans’ displeasure with the event rising, rumors WWE stars such as John Cena reportedly wanting to pull out of the show, and negative attention from major media outlets like ESPN and “Last Week Tonight” host John Oliver picking up steam, the “Crown Jewel” event still looked to be in danger. WWE’s short-term answer was to stop referencing Saudi Arabia by name on their commercials and television broadcasts, but it was clear the company needed to do more to right their public perception.

WrestlingNews.co reported on Oct. 23, that WWE’s decision on what to do about “Crown Jewel” could come as soon as Oct. 24, after Turkey publicized details from their investigation of Khashoggi’s murder. About thirty minutes after Saudi Arabia admitted that Khashoggi’s killing was premeditated, WWE announced in their third-quarter financial report for 2018 that they would be moving forward with the controversial event.

“Similar to other U.S.-based companies who plan to continue operations in Saudi Arabia,” the report read, “the Company has decided to uphold its contractual obligations to the General Sports Authority and stage the event. Full year 2018 guidance is predicated on the staging of the Riyadh event as scheduled.”

WWE was clear in their statement that the motivator for continuing operations in Saudi Arabia was monetary, but with the confession from Saudi Arabian officials and WWE’s all-women event taking place the following Oct. 28, the timing was unfortunate.

Since WWE’s decision last week, Cena has officially pulled out of the event, replaced on the card by WWE Superstar Bobby Lashley. With others such as fan favorite and current challenger for the WWE Championship Daniel Bryan rumored to be refusing to go to Saudi Arabia, many spectators are still wondering whether or not the company has made the right decision.