WWE in Saudi Arabia

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WWE in Saudi Arabia
WWE Logo.svgEmblem of Saudi Arabia.svg
Promotion(s)WWE
General Sports Authority
Brand(s)Raw
SmackDown
205 Live
First eventApril 2014 tour

WWE, an American professional wrestling promotion based in Stamford, Connecticut, United States, has been promoting events in Saudi Arabia since 2014. In contrast to regular WWE events, female wrestlers are banned from appearing in events held in Saudi Arabia.[1]

Many events in the country promoted by the WWE have been subjected to criticism due to curtailing homosexual equality, a state accused of severe human rights abuses, leading a war of attrition in Yemen, and suppressing women's rights.[2][3][4]

History[edit]

In December 2013, it was announced that WWE would begin holding shows in Saudi Arabia.[5] In April 2014, WWE held their first house shows in Riyadh, their first event ever in Saudi Arabia,[6][7][8] which were three separate shows at the Green Halls Stadium.[9] In October 2015, WWE did three house shows from Jeddah, at the King Abdullah Sports City Sports Hall.[10][11] In November 2016, the WWE again returned to Green Halls Stadium in Riyadh, for two additional live events.[12] The 2016 events were exclusive to the SmackDown brand.[13]

In 2017, WWE Wal3ooha began broadcasting throughout the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, on OSN Sports.[14] The show ended when OSN discontinued the channel it broadcast on in March 2019, along with the majority of its sports programming.[15]

On March 5, 2018, WWE and the Saudi General Sports Authority advertised the Greatest Royal Rumble, a live event to be held on April 27, 2018, at King Abdullah International Stadium, part of the King Abdullah Sports City, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.[16][17] The event was the first in a 10-year strategic multi-platform partnership between WWE and the Saudi General Sports Authority in support of Saudi Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia's social and economic reform program.[18][19]

Controversies[edit]

Women's rights[edit]

WWE had been criticized for holding the events without female wrestlers, who were unable to perform at the event due to the limited rights women have in Saudi Arabia.[20][3] Triple H, WWE's Executive Vice President of Talent, Live Events and Creative, responded to the criticism: "I understand that people are questioning it, but you have to understand that every culture is different and just because you don’t agree with a certain aspect of it, it doesn’t mean it’s not a relevant culture...You can’t dictate to a country or a religion about how they handle things but, having said that, WWE is at the forefront of a women’s evolution in the world and what you can’t do is effect change anywhere by staying away from it....While women are not competing in the event, we have had discussions about that and hope that, in the next few years they will be".[20]

Consistent with the change in law for sporting events in 2017,[21] women are in attendance for the events, though only if accompanied by a male guardian.[20] This was a major change from previous events, which were only open to men. Associated Press noted that this is due to "a series of social changes" by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.[22]

During the Greatest Royal Rumble, WWE aired a promotional video, which included female wrestlers in their ring gear. The Saudi General Sports Authority issued an apology for "indecent material" that aired at the event.[23]

During the second show, Crown Jewel, Renee Young provided commentary at the show. She would go on to do the same at 2019's Super ShowDown.[24]

Killing of Jamal Khashoggi[edit]

One month prior to Crown Jewel, Saudi Arabia received substantial negative press due to the killing of Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of Saudi agents. This led to the WWE facing calls to cancel the event, with prominent U.S. Democratic and Republican politicians criticizing the company's endeavors in Saudi Arabia.[25] Questions were raised whether because of the position of Administrator of the Small Business Administration Linda McMahon, who is the wife of WWE CEO Vince McMahon and a former WWE executive herself, WWE's endeavors in Saudi Arabia could still be viewed as a strictly private business enterprise. Due to this, Democratic Senator Bob Menendez urged the US government to pressure WWE into canceling the event, while Republican Lindsey Graham, among others, called for WWE to reconsider their business deal with the Saudi kingdom.[26] WWE continued to promote the show, but erased all references to Saudi Arabia as the event's location.[27]

On October 19, the day tickets were to go on sale, the Saudi government confirmed the death of Khashoggi within the consulate and WWE.com removed ticket information from the event page.[28] On October 25, WWE confirmed the event would go on as planned, citing contractual obligations to the General Sports Authority.[29] Speaking with Sky Sports on pushing forward with the event despite the murder, WWE CBO Stephanie McMahon spoke of "an incredibly tough decision, given that heinous act", but said that in the end it was strictly a business decision.[30]

Wrestlers refusing to work[edit]

Sami Zayn did not participate in the Greatest Royal Rumble as Zayn is of Syrian descent, and Saudi Arabia has strained relations with Syria.[31]

During Crown Jewel, Daniel Bryan was scheduled to face AJ Styles for the WWE Championship, but he reportedly refused to work the show.[32] As a result, his title match was bumped up to the October 30 episode of SmackDown, and he was replaced by Samoa Joe at Crown Jewel. John Cena, who was scheduled to participate in the WWE World Cup at Crown Jewel and had called it "an honor and a privilege" to compete in Saudi Arabia during the Greatest Royal Rumble, was replaced by Bobby Lashley, as he reportedly refused to work the show in wake of the Khashoggi murder.[33][34]

In 2019 for Super ShowDown, Kevin Owens and Aleister Black told WWE that they would not travel to Saudi Arabia, in addition to Zayn and Bryan once again not competing on the show.[35][36] Black has reportedly not been authorized to participate on the show due to his body featuring several tattoos with "some religious connotations" that might offend Saudi Arabians; it is unknown if this was a decision from WWE, or a request from Saudi Arabia.[37] Kevin Owens' refusal to work the show allegedly comes from his friendship with Sami Zayn.[38] As a result of his absence, he was replaced in the WWE Championship match by Dolph Ziggler.

Live events[edit]

House shows[edit]

SmackDown-branded event
# Date City Venue
1 April 17–19, 2014[13] Riyadh, Saudi Arabia Green Halls Stadium
2 October 8–10, 2015[39] Jeddah, Saudi Arabia King Abdullah Sports City Sports Hall
3 November 3–4, 2016[13] Riyadh, Saudi Arabia Green Halls Stadium

Pay-per-view events[edit]

# Event Date City Venue Main Event
1 Greatest Royal Rumble April 27, 2018 Jeddah, Saudi Arabia King Abdullah Sports City Stadium 50-man Royal Rumble match for the Greatest Royal Rumble Trophy and Championship[40]
2 Crown Jewel (2018) November 2, 2018 Riyadh, Saudi Arabia King Saud University Stadium D-Generation X (Triple H and Shawn Michaels) vs. The Brothers of Destruction (The Undertaker and Kane)[41]
3 Super ShowDown[42] June 7, 2019[43] Jeddah, Saudi Arabia King Abdullah International Stadium[44] Goldberg vs. The Undertaker
4 Crown Jewel (2019) October 31, 2019[45][46] Riyadh, Saudi Arabia King Saud University Stadium TBA

References[edit]

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  2. ^ Williams, Ian (October 16, 2018). "WWE's Saudi Arabia Nightmare". Vice. Retrieved October 17, 2018.
  3. ^ a b Collins, Elle (March 26, 2018). "WWE Reveals New Matches For The Greatest Royal Rumble, But No Women's Wrestling Allowed". Uproxx. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
  4. ^ "WWE is hosting Greatest Royal Rumble in Saudi Arabia and LGBT+ fans are not happy about it – PinkNews". www.pinknews.co.uk. Retrieved 2018-04-27.
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  8. ^ WWE (2014-04-22), First-ever WWE Live Event in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, retrieved 2019-05-15
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  15. ^ Shakeel, Shayan (February 13, 2019). "OSN to drop all sports channels except for cricket". Arabian Business.
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  19. ^ "National Transformation Program 2020" (PDF).
  20. ^ a b c Paddock, Matty (April 24, 2018). "WWE Greatest Royal Rumble: Triple H defends hosting event in Saudi Arabia without any women wrestlers". The Independent. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
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  28. ^ Martinez, Philipp (October 20, 2018). "WWE CROWN JEWEL: TICKET SALES POSTPONED, MENTIONS OF SAUDI ARABIA REMOVED FROM SITE". Newsweek. Retrieved October 22, 2018.
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  46. ^ https://pwinsider.com/article/128509/the-next-wwe-event-in-saudi-arabia-will-take-place.html?p=1