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What is WWE doing in Saudi Arabia?

Vince McMahon, Turki bin Abdul Muhsin Al-Asheik of Saudi Arabia's General Sports Authority and Paul "Triple H" Levesque
Photo: @Turki_alalshikh

On Friday, WWE presents the Greatest Royal Rumble, a live performance -Pay-per-view event from the King Abdullah Sports City Stadium in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The event, which was announced two months ago, will be moved to WWE programming as a pay-per-view of the upper tier. It contains a loaded map that feels like it triggered changes to some WrestleMania results a few weeks ago. WWE's decision to emphasize the Saudi show and make substantial concessions, including the complete removal of its increasingly important female list, is the first high-profile event of a new long-term agreement between WWE and Saudi Arabia. Understanding the newly found partnership with the Saudi government starts with understanding how they serve each other.

Unlike the overwhelming majority of WWE shows, the Greatest Royal Rumble is sponsored by the Saudi General Sports Authority, which is responsible for all sporting events in Saudi Arabia. As a result, the card is fully funded by the Saudi government. However, until WWE's Q2 report is released, there's no way to know how much Saudi Arabia is paying for both this show and its 10-year deal with WWE in general. But given the sheer size and spectacle of the card, it is safe to assume that no expense was spared.

For the past few years, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman – the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, commonly known as MBS – has been hailed as a social reformer for the changes he has made in his kingdom in the Middle East , The mainstream media have praised the 32-year-old as a revolutionary figure who has transformed his conservative country through the fight against bribery in the elite, the ban on forms of entertainment such as concerts and cinema, and the right of women to drive a car. Most of these fundamental changes are part of a strategic economic reform plan known as Vision 2030.

MBS unveiled Vision 2030 – a blueprint that represented a multifaceted, technocratic future for the kingdom where the country would be free of its dependency oil-in April 2016. As part of this initiative, MBS has expanded its workforce participation, The education system has been strengthened and massively invested in the entertainment sector, including in sports events that have not previously been seen in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia's interest in sports fits into the broader 2030 vision that the country wants to modernize so quickly. In 2018, Saudi Arabia held a two-day race-of-champions motorsport event – the first in the kingdom – and will host the Cruiserweight World Boxing Super Series final in May. It was also reported that Saudi Arabia was planning to acquire a stake in Hollywood talent agency and media conglomerate Endeavor, the parent company of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Recently, the kingdom secured an unprecedented 10-year deal with World Wrestling Entertainment.

The history of WWE in the Middle East is generally difficult to analyze because the documentation of its earliest tours practically does not exist. In the mid-1980s, WWE (then the WWF) sent talent on several tours in this part of the world, but the records are incredibly limited, aside from wrestling anecdotes and rare mentions in WWF releases. The June-July 1985 issue of the WWF magazine documented such a tour, "WWF Spring Middle East Championship" 85 Tour, in the magazine's recurring "Foreign Affairs" section. This article offers few actual details beyond the facts that the tour hit Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt and Cyprus, and that the previously and later unmentioned Asian Heavyweight and Asian Tag Team Championships were contested.

According to Gama Singh, who was in the mid-eighties, there were some tours that appealed to the Indian population. WWE and have actually visited Saudi Arabia before, even though the magazine said so.

"I remember [VP of the WWF’s international division] Jim Troy told me," We have a four-week tour to come to Saudi Arabia, "and this and that, and at the last minute, the clergy refused to grant us work permits "Singh said. "They said it was inappropriate for men to be in bathing suits and perform in front of the women, they did not think it was right, so we never got our work permit, and the tour at that time never came to fruition." He added that a similar problem arose in Kuwait with female wrestlers upon their arrival, so the only option (19459025)

The 1988 home video "Best of the WWF Vol 16: Around the World features highlights from an undated Mr. Fuji Mach from Kuwait City with an unknown opponent and remains the only material released by these tours. In addition, the title win of the Glamor Girls for WWF Womens Tag Team was formally charged in 1985 in Cairo, Egypt. The general belief is that the match never happened (a December 2012 WWE.com article agrees with that), but you can not really rule it out. Gama Singh could not remember if such a match had taken place, but remembered female wrestlers on at least one tour.

The only other time you have ever really learned about these tours is the mention of the many years of history that Irv Muchnick reported in the 1990s that Jimmy Snuka was caught on Kuwaiti customs at the end of the tour in the summer of 1985. " The regulated substances were glued to his body. " The official tours stopped around this time (though Singh noted that WWF's local promoter was still holding shows with independent wrestlers) and resumed only a decade later.

Despite the star power at the Greatest Royal Rumble, much of the roster will not make the trip to Jeddah. Asked by Deadspin when the show was announced, WWE responded with a statement that "female WWE Superstars will not perform at this year's event." Given that WWE has defended its "women's revolution" in recent years and Ronda Rousey is theirs. Currently the biggest mainstream star is a significant step backwards. It also shows that WWE is doing its part to rehabilitate Saudi Arabia's image and indirectly support the Kingdom's continued commitment to gender segregation.

(At least one other reporter, Chris Harrington of Fightful, was next to a similar explanation to familiarized with Vision 2030 .)

On Dec. 7, WWE has a show in Abu Dhabi Alexa Bliss showed against Sasha Banks in the first women's wrestling match in the United Arab Emirates. Instead of their usual two-piece sprocket wore both full-body suits to adhere to the local dress code. The news centered on "making history", and this went on in WWE 24: Empowered a documentary by the WWE network.

"Bringing female WWE performers to a place where these possibilities do not exist It necessarily exists, it's so culturally significant," says Paul "Triple H" Levesque, WWE EVP for Talents, Live Lvents and Creatives , His wife, WWE Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon, notes the costume change and says, "They designed outfits because we still need to be very respectful, cultural, and have their skin covered."

Like the documentary To the clips of the game, McMahon adds, "I do not think anybody really understood the weight of that moment until Sasha and Alexa were in the ring and the vocals broke out: & # 39; That's hope . & # 39; " After a clip of just a few fans singing, McMahon shows, "It seemed like a lot bigger than WWE itself," as a little girl is shown enjoying the game … of what's like the royal family the UAE looks like.

The same day as Empowerment premiered, WWE announced that the Greatest Royal Rumble had seven title games, including a rematch by Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns, headlining WrestleMania, plus a 50-man Royal Rumble match with returning guest stars Chris Jericho and Rey Mysterio. WWE announced this week that the show was sold out.

While praising the 2030 vision as a modern solution to the monarch's heavy dependence on oil, it does not include significant social reforms. Instead, it has given MBS a strategic opportunity to divert international attention away from the far-reaching human rights violations that the country continues to commit. The Crown Prince's heavy sports investment follows the brutal Saudi Arabian campaign in Yemen – a war that has displaced more than three million people and caused one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. The most recent example was that the Saudi-led military coalition air-raided Sunday's wedding, killing more than 20 people.

Although Saudi's reputation is tempered by images of anti-corruption, according to moderate Islam, improved women's rights and a wealth of sports and entertainment, it would be negligent to allow the country's continued disregard of political and civil liberties to ignore. Dissent is confronted with violent methods of repression such as torture and extrajudicial killings, while homosexuality remains illegal and punishable by death.

The male guardianship remains firmly rooted and keeps women on the side of their spouse or male relatives who have the last word they may travel, study abroad or have access to medical care. The opportunity to participate in football matches in a handful of stadiums does not change the fact that the Saudi government is monitoring women who use electronic systems to persecute cross-border movements and forcibly returned women who have fled their relatives.

In her March statement, in which she mentioned the absence of female talent, WWE also told Deadspin that women would be "admitted," though the reality is a bit more complicated. Those who bought tickets to the show could not pick their exact seats. Instead, they were limited to Upper Section, Lower Section, VIP or Gold. More importantly, according to the WWE website for Saudi Arabia, tickets were available for families or "singles" that only apply to individual men and not to women. Women are not allowed to attend the show without a male guardian.

When she was asked this week about WWE's decision to keep her female list from the big show in a country known for her appalling treatment of women, Levesque became executive, saying that it made a difference come in the "culture".

"I understand that people question it, but you have to understand that every culture is different and just because you disagree with a certain aspect of it, it does not mean that it's not a relevant culture," said he opposite The Independent . "You can not dictate to a country or a religion how they handle things, but WWE is at the forefront of women's evolution in the world, and what you can not do is influence change by keeping it away."

From the wrestling business standpoint, the Greatest Royal Rumble stands in the foreground A show that WWE makes. A 50-man Royal Rumble match is unprecedented, and especially since WWE tries to protect the Rumble as something special. Adding seven title matches, including guaranteed new Raw Tag Team Champions and a Lesnar Reigns Rematch that feels like a title change, takes it even further. And if Reigns leaves Jeddah with his belt, there will be a feeling among the fanbase that a move from WrestleMania has been delayed to give the Saudis a bigger match.

Vince McMahon's wrestling empire is said to have much to like About this business: It's a long-term foot in the Middle East, probably longer than any other contract the company has. There is no direct financial risk as the Greatest Rumble and, probably, all future Saudi events are sold to shows that the company is paid a flat fee – what Dave Meltzer called "millions upon millions of dollars". Do not underestimate the value of bragging about two different massive stadium shows on two continents in less than three weeks; it is in this business that optics matter.

But WWE's willingness to host an event in Saudi Arabia makes it the latest spin-off that distracts from the ongoing problems in the kingdom. Ultimately, the Greatest Royal Rumble will help solidify the legitimacy of MBS by presenting its nation as a modern and reformed country ready to merge with the Western world. The use of sports and entertainment events for political purposes is a long-celebrated tradition for authoritarian regimes and dictatorships such as the Saudi Arabian monarchy. It seems the WWE is happy to help.

WWE failed to respond to Deadspin's plea to comment on the abolition of women from the map in light of the Abu Dhabi adjustments, segregated ticket sales and the Saudi government's human rights record

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