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WWE Faces Backlash Over Show in Saudi Arabia

Despite controversy surrounding Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance, the WWE still held its show in Saudi Arabia. PHOTO/ Wrestling News

By Austin Santiago

Published: November 7th, 2018

World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) is considered one of the most far reaching sports brands in the world today. Currently available in 180 different Countries, and reaching 800 million homes each week in 25 different languages, pro-wrestling has truly become a cultural phenomenon. However, in light of recent political turmoil between The United States and Saudi Arabia, many sports fans, and Americans alike, are beginning to feel that WWE has reached too far with their latest Pay Per View venture, “WWE: Crown Jewel” live from Saudi Arabia.

The sold out event was the WWE’s second show in Saudi Arabia in less than eight months, and is part of a 10-year strategic partnership between the WWE and the Saudi General Sports Authority. The partnership comes as a result of the “Saudi Vision 2030,” a development program put forward by the Saudi government to reduce their dependence on oil, and diversify the economy by means such as recreation and tourism. Of course, WWE would also benefit greatly from this partnership, it’s first event in Saudi Arabia “WWE: Greatest Royal Rumble” generated roughly $40-50 million for the pro wrestling juggernaut, making the call for a second event in Saudi a no-brainer.

And it was an easy decision, until October 19, when reports came out stating that journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi Government and writer for The Washington Post entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, and never came out. Following days of speculation and scrutiny from the President, the Saudi government confirmed that Khashoggi was killed upon entering the consulate, dismembered, and then dissolved. What followed was a massive outcry for the United States to cut off all ties with the Saudi government, as this tragedy seemed to greatly damage what little trust the U.S. has with the Saudi nation.

However, in spite of all the anti-Saudi sentiment that has taken over U.S. news feeds, WWE’s plans of performing in front of a sold out crowd in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia did not change. To the anger of many, the WWE did not cancel the Saudi Arabia show in light of the newly unbalanced political landscape.  Despite going forward with the event, WWE tried its best to mute Saudi Arabia in the buildup to the show, the announcers stopped referring to Saudi Arabia on television and live events, and wrestlers began refereeing to the show as only “Crown Jewel” with no indication of the shows’ location.  

The event took place on Friday November 2, and the backlash was fierce. WWE saw its stock price fall two points, while many wrestling fans unsubscribed from the WWE Network, the company’s monthly streaming service. On social media, “#CancelCrownJewel” became a worldwide trend and many wrestling fans posted pictures of their newly unsubscribed WWE Network accounts. The decision to follow through with the event created strife within WWE as well, as John Cena and Daniel Bryan decided not to travel with the company to Saudi Arabia. As considering they are two of the biggest stars the WWE has to offer, their decision not to compete in Saudi Arabia shows that those who work for the WWE are not totally on board with these recent events.

However, some of the wrestlers for the WWE have stated they have no tentativeness towards performing in Saudi Arabia, WWE’s Randy Orton told TMZ: “I’ve got 5 kids. I gotta go make that dollar. If they want me in Saudi, I’m going to Saudi.”  While it may just be business to the WWE and its wrestlers, for many, the show in Saudi Arabia is simply unforgivable.

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