Money over everything: The Saudi-WWE agreement

Matthew Rago, Editor-in-Chief

WWE returns to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) on Oct. 31 for their now-annual Crown Jewel event. The promotion signed a 10-year deal with the KSA, promising two events per year. However, WWE’s willingness to embrace the KSA and more specifically, their money, has prompted a significant backlash from all corners. Detractors contend that WWE is turning a blind eye to blatant human rights violations for the sake of turning a profit. Proponents–and presumably WWE’s public relations team–claim WWE’s presence might help lead the Middle Eastern kingdom  into modern 21st century. Up until this point, however, the vocal majority has drowned out the minority, sabotaging WWE’s attempts at justifying their presence in the KSA.

To put it mildly, Saudi Arabia has a checkered relationship with the United States. All but four of the men responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks were of Saudi Arabian descent. WWE, whose broadcast immediately following 9/11 served as a rallying cry for a mourning country, returning to the country that essentially orchestrated the most devastating terrorist attack in recent U.S. history is tasteless and selfish.

Last October, video surfaced of American journalist Jamal Khashoggi entering a Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. However, no CCTV footage exists of him exiting. Turkish intelligence officials found evidence that Khashoggi, who had been a vocal critic of the KSA, had been assassinated and dismembered. Our own intelligence agencies determined that the Saudi Arabian prince Mohammed Bin Salman ordered the assassination of Khashoggi. Considering that freedom of speech and press is a core value of the United States, WWE’s argument that their presence in a country that actively slaughters media members seems unpersuasive. 

In a de facto admission of shame, WWE opted against promoting the location of the Crown Jewel event on television following a vocal backlash from fans. In the midst of WWE’s renewed emphasis on treating their female performers as equal to their male counterparts, WWE hosted an event where a countercultural set of standards prohibited their women from performing. Promoting a women’s revolution while concurrently allowing an authoritarian regime to dictate whether or not the women can perform exposes the WWE as hypocritical. Having to keep Sami Zayn, a wrestler of Syrian descent, off the show due to threat of harassment, injury or death speaks loudly and clearly. Sure, the KSA lifted their ban on women driving in last June–hooray, right?–but a mere week later, they arrested nine women for superficial crimes that were directly related to activism promoting women’s rights. Some of these women actually face the death penalty for their activism, a transparent attempt to suppress free speech and reinforce antiquated policies. WWE’s venture into the KSA is what happens when capitalism overcomes basic morals in the name of profit. No, that’s not an attempt to tear down capitalism, but rather an attempt to attack unadulterated greed. WWE needs to listen to the audible boos that resonate throughout arenas whenever WWE references an event that will take place in the KSA. 

Until WWE Chairman Vince McMahon acknowledges the atrocities and human rights violations that have been committed by generations of Saudi Arabian leadership, their attempts at a positive PR spin will fall on deaf ears. WWE fans at least took solace in the idea that despite promoting Saudi Arabian events as the equivalent of Wrestlemania, the actual shows were glorified house shows. At least WWE gave fans eager to follow the narrative an opportunity to skip the show. This year is different, though. This year, WWE further succumbed to the Middle Eastern kingdom’s demands and put forth a can’t miss show. WWE offered boxing heavyweight Tyson Fury $11.9 million to face Braun Strowman. Former UFC Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez will contest Brock Lesnar for the WWE Championship in another heavily star-powered match that forces fans to choose between respecting human decency and the beloved franchise they’ve invested their time and money into .  But hey, anything for a little profit, right Vince?