Companies and captains of industry have been distancing themselves from Saudi Arabia following the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
One company that has been quiet is WWE (WWE).
What does a wrestling entertainment company have to do with Saudi Arabia? It turns out a lot. WWE signed a 10-year partnership with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s “Saudi Vision 2030,” a plan created to increase tourism to the nation and reduce its dependency on oil. As part of this deal, the WWE will produce a number of events in the country.
On April 27, the WWE’s “Greatest Royal Rumble” was broadcast live from the King Abdullah International Stadium in Jeddah. The second event of the partnership “Crown Jewel” is set to take place in Saudi Arabia on Friday, Nov. 2, and will feature many wrestlers including Glenn Jacobs — the newly elected mayor of Knox County, Tennessee — who wrestles in the WWE as Kane.
The disappearance and suspected murder Khashoggi, who was critical of the Saudi Arabian government, has changed the situation for many. Khashoggi was last seen entering the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on Oct. 2.
The Turkish government alleges that Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate. Saudi Arabian authorities have denied the accusation, saying that the journalist left shortly after he entered. However, there’s no security footage showing him leaving the facility.
This controversy came as Saudi Arabia plans to host a three-day investment summit dubbed “Davos in the Desert,” beginning Oct. 23. Since word broke of Khashoggi’s disappearance, many high profile companies and business leaders have withdrawn from the conference.
WWE is taking flack
WWE’s November event is still on the calendar, despite mounting criticism for not backing out amid Khashoggi’s disappearance.
Recent critics of WWE include Sen. Lindsey Graham, who said there should be “a pause” in WWE’s relationship with the Saudis. Comedian John Oliver roasted WWE on his HBO show “Last Week Tonight.” Oliver showed clips of WWE wrestlers and personnel including perennial WWE icon John Cena praising the Kingdom despite its terrible human rights record.
WWE is a publicly traded company that has to answer to its shareholders and canceling an event the size and scope of “Crown Jewel” could cost the company millions. So it might not be that easy for WWE to just pull out of the event.
WWE has been willing to set aside some of its principles in the name of business before. The last time WWE was in Saudi Arabia, the wrestling company bent to Saudi Arabian law by agreeing to leave its female wrestlers off of the show.
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