WWE and Saudi Arabia: A disastrous display of greed, arrogance and ignorance
By Colin Macgillivray, Arts Editor
As a die-hard professional wrestling fan, it generally brings a smile to my face when wrestling bursts into the mainstream. Whether it was the ridiculous John Cena memes of years past or Randy Orton’s finishing maneuver, the RKO, making its way into Vine compilations, this everyday exposure that Vince McMahon, the CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), desperately craves is harmless and fizzles out within weeks.
But, anytime McMahon, the out-of-touch kingpin of the biggest wrestling conglomerate in history, has a mainstream opportunity to make a stand, make a smart decision and maybe even garner some new fans, the money-loving mogul misses the mark every time.
When it came to handling the double murder by the hands of a former employee, Chris Benoit, McMahon lied through his teeth concerning steroid abuse in the business, something that directly contributed to Benoit’s deteriorating mental and physical state.
When it came to handling the infamous 1990s steroid trial that nearly destroyed his wrestling empire, McMahon continued to lie. Years later, McMahon’s daughter, Stephanie, compared the heated trial to the 9/11 terrorist attack.
But, in 2018, after years of desperately trying to recapture their late 90s, early 2000s success, McMahon might have found himself in his most disgusting mess by refusing to address the companies upcoming show in Saudi Arabia, the ironically named Crown Jewel, in the wake of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder and dismemberment in Istanbul.
Here’s a brief recap on WWE’s part in all this.
The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, barraged international media with propagandic talk of modernization of the nation. Women would finally be allowed to drive, oil wouldn’t be the only facet of their economic engine and the Saudi stock exchange was now helmed by a woman.
They called it Vision 2030 and the Saudis suddenly became Western media darlings by making minimal change to their flawed system.
Here’s the thing, though. All of their claims of modernizing were half-truths at best. These laughable baby steps were accompanied by a violent, one-sided war against Yemen intensifying, crucifying their criminals and even essentially threatening Canada with a second 9/11. The list goes on.
Enter the WWE!
To truly showcase their new, modern approach, Saudi Arabia reportedly payed the company $40 to $50 million to put on a massive event back in April, called the Greatest Royal Rumble.
Leading up to the event, WWE praised the Saudi government to disturbing levels. Vision 2030 was brought up countless times, bin Salman was labeled as a wonderful leader and the company seemed to be basking in their lucrative international partner.
But, the whole event was marred by the fact that no women were allowed to wrestle, which completely contradicted the Saudi’s new “progressive” stance on women. It felt like a sham and an opportunity to make a lot of money and it was a new low for the WWE.
But, on Nov. 2, the company is still poised to make their way to Saudi Arabia for Crown Jewel, even after Saudi Arabian government confirmed the death of Khashoggi within the consulate at the hands of Saudi agents, after initially denying his death all together or any Saudi involvement.
Women will once again be barred from competing and the company is honestly putting more effort into this event than their own weekly product. Dream matches — that I would be excited for under other circumstances — like AJ Styles facing Daniel Bryan and Kurt Angle against John Cena (who supposedly stated that he won’t be participating at the event) will be featured, with wrestling legend Shawn Michaels coming out of a near decade-long retirement to return to perform at the show.
Now, the WWE is being justifiably blasted by mainstream media outlets and fans alike, with Last Week Tonight host John Oliver even criticizing WWE for what he saw as blatant pro-Saudi propaganda. The desperately sought mainstream coverage has finally returned for McMahon and he refuses to do the right thing.
Despite a multitude of calls to cancel the event, WWE has instead decided to stop mentioning the location of where the event will take place, even though they continue to promote it on all of their weekly programs. It’s gross and that seems to be going hand-in-hand with the WWE.
At the time this article was written, the McMahon’s are holding steadfast and going ahead with the event. One of the most baffling parts of the whole thing is that they don’t need the money, as they still have a stranglehold on the wrestling business.
As a wrestling fan, who started with WWE and branched out to other, better promotions as I matured, have not spent a dime on WWE’s products in years and now I refuse to do so. The company, with both their lacklustre product and their asinine business decisions, continues to treat their audience with a lack of respect.
Despite professional wrestling being largely seen as low-brow entertainment, the majority of their fanbase is educated, wealthy and informed. But, for some reason, WWE still thinks that their fanbase is made up of the “common man,” who will turn a blind eye to whatever the company is doing as long as they get to see some wrasslin’.
If WWE continues to cater to a regime accused of severe human rights abuse, leading a war of attrition in Yemen and suppressing women’s rights, I hope more wrestling fans stop watching them. They need to wake up and realize that the professional wrestling business doesn’t have to be full of greed, arrogance and ignorance.
In the end, I’m appalled by their decision to go ahead with this event, I’m disappointed that so many wrestlers are turning a blind eye to human rights issues for a lucrative paycheque. I’m also embarrassed that the wrestling industry, in 2018, is still being seen as a disgusting business due to the actions of the most powerful company in said business.
Here’s hoping that things will change in the future.