Point/ Counterpoint: WWE


In this photo released by Saudi Press Agency, SPA, Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, right, Lebanese Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, second right, and Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, second left, attend the Future Investment Initiative conference, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018. Salman addressed the summit on Wednesday, his first such comments since the killing earlier this month of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. (Saudi Press Agency via AP)

By James Krause

WWE needs to cancel Crown Jewel

James Krause | Sports Contributor 

After the disappearance of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, several prominent business figures pulled out of a Saudi Arabian investment conference.

If Saudi Arabia is too unsettled right now for men in suits, it can’t be that safe for men in tights. Nonetheless, World Wrestling Entertainment, WWE, has already made its bed in Saudi Arabia and has decided to lie in it.

WWE still plans on holding its ‘Crown Jewel’ event Nov. 2 at King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, despite the death of Khashoggi; many are calling for the event to be cancelled.

In March, WWE agreed to a 10-year partnership with the General Sport Authority to hold live events in the kingdom, according to a March 5 news release.

They held their first event in April in Jeddah, where WWE broadcasted a weird hybrid of a wrestling show and tourist infomercial for Saudi Arabia.

The agreement is part of Saudi Vision 2030, a project that looks to further develop “a vibrant society, a thriving economy and an ambitious nation,” according to an announcement from the kingdom in 2016.

WWE being a part of this large social movement in Saudi Arabia is a great look for WWE, but just as important as the publicity for WWE is the payout. The company is making $45 million a year, according to the Wrestling Observer.

WWE may be trying to push through for the sake of waving its flag as a champion of social change, but some of its performers are not.

Wrestlers John Cena and Daniel Bryan, while being advertised still on WWE programing, are refusing to work at the event, according to a Oct. 23 report from Barstool Sports.

While most of the outrage of fans and wrestlers surrounding the event focuses on death of Khashoggi, things are worse than they appear in Saudi Arabia.

The country is responsible for air strikes on Yemen that have killed at least 1,248 children, according to the United Nations.

While boasting about granting women the right to drive in Saudi Arabia, the kingdom arrested dozens of female activists who were campaigning for the right.

WWE constantly takes to its Twitter account and website to advertise how they use their money to become champions of social change.

“WWE has been at the forefront of change,” former WWE star John Bradshaw Layfield said in an Oct. 17 interview with Fox Business. “[If] you want to change Saudi Arabia, you send something like WWE.”

WWE can put smiles on faces, but it is not a powerhouse of change in the world, especially not enough to change Saudi Arabia. It cannot force further evolution of women’s rights. It can not force a change of power. It can not bring back the dead children of Yemen.

Wrestlers aren’t buying in on the new promise of social change they will bring to Saudi Arabia, and fans aren’t much either. The WWE doesn’t seem to care, as long as they can cash out.

For a company where women are put on a pedestal, where some of the most prominent Muslim entertainers in the U.S. work and where social change has been embraced, it shouldn’t come to the bottom line for WWE to make a decision.

Saudi Arabia may one day be a place for entertainment like WWE, but that day is not today, and it may not be for a while.

Crown Jewel should air as planned

Chris Grask | Perspective Contributor

The murder of a Saudi Arabian journalist involving the Saudi Arabian government has some people unsure about the WWE running their upcoming pay-per-view. The event should go on as planned and ignore the criticism from the outside sources.

The recent disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi Oct. 2 has many assuming foul play and a possible cover-up by the Saudi Arabian government. As a result, many are clamoring for the WWE to cancel their upcoming live event pay-per-view, ‘Crown Jewel.’

Khashoggi walked into the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul, Turkey and was murdered, according to an Oct. 25 BBC article. Originally, the Saudi Arabian government said he left the consulate; however, Turkish officials claimed he was murdered by Saudi agents. It wasn’t until Oct. 20 that the Saudi Arabian government gave in and said Khashoggi was killed following a fight.

“WWE has operated in the Middle East for nearly 20 years and has developed a sizable and dedicated fan base,” according to an Oct. 25 news release from WWE. WWE later went on to call the murder of Khashoggi heinous, and the decision was difficult to make. Furthermore, they upheld their decision to run the event as planned due to contractual obligations in respect to other U.S. companies who plan to operate in Saudi Arabia for the future.

As a result of the connection to the murder and the recent deal with WWE, many believe it is indecent for the events to continue.

However, the WWE made the right decision to continue with the event, and, furthermore, they simply can’t afford to walk out on their contract.

Recently, Leati Joseph Anoaʻi, who goes by Roman Reigns in the WWE, is one of their main stars revealed during an Oct. 22 broadcast. WWE’s plans to expand their international market a movement of venue for “Crown Jewel” would be disastrous.

“Wrestling is quite an attraction for a lot of Saudis, so it is a good internal market,” David Ottoway, Middle East specialist at the Wilson Center, said in a Sept. 16 interview with Sports Illustrated. WWE’s expansion into the Middle East makes it one of few American companies to go there. Expanding into the Saudi Arabian market is profitable for the WWE with a population of nearly 33 million people, making it hard to deny its importance for the Saudi Arabia market.

The deal between the Saudi Arabian Kingdom and the WWE lasts 10 years and pays out on average $45 million annually, according to wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer on the July 26 episode of Wrestling Observer Radio.

A deal of that magnitude cannot be neglected or walked out on due to the financial gains that can be achieved from it. The killing of a journalist is a big deal; however, not honoring a financial obligation is a disservice to both parties and the citizens of Saudi Arabia. Western business integrating into Saudi Arabia is key to strengthening international relations for the WWE. Leaving the deal would cause a rift with other countries or anyone else who wants to do business with WWE in the future. Critics say the WWE should relocate, but money talks and business expansion cannot be restricted.