WWE is complicit in Saudi Arabia sportswashing campaign

WWE continues to act as a public relations arm for a Saudi Arabian government recognized to have a horrible track record on human rights.
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Saudi Arabia’s sportswashing campaign continues to make major advances and WWE is complicit in the success. As WWE superstars land in the country to prepare for WWE SmackDown and The King and Queen of the Ring PLE, it’s important to recognize that this is a continued measure in which the largest promotion in professional wrestling partners with a government that has one of the worst human rights track records in the world. As WWE and TKO Group Holdings further lock themselves in bed with this government it’s important to recognize why this should be a bigger and more problematic issue.

WWE currently has a ten-year deal in place with Saudi Arabia and that deal is going to expand. That deal started back in March 2018, and TKO President Mark Shapiro said that deal is going to get stronger while speaking during J.P. Morgan’s Global Technology, Media and Communications Conference.

“You can look for us to expand our current deal in the next six to twelve months,” Shapiro said. “Very happy with MBS and the partnership we have there. We are already in discussions in expanding that to more events.”

Shapiro continued, speaking about not only upcoming WWE events in the area, but UFC which has announced upcoming events in Saudi Arabia as well. Some consider the country to be the new home of combat sports, as many major boxing contests are held there as well. Along with soccer, golf, F1 and more, sports organizations are all too ready to cozy up to a country that has committed heinous acts of oppression throughout history. If the money is flowing in, they will continue to look the other way.

Not only are these organizations looking the other way, but they are doing public relations for the Saudi Arabian government as well. Look at WWE’s social media and the social media pages of its biggest stars. Pictures and videos of beautiful beaches, views, and other areas of the country that aren’t available to the people that are living there every day. WWE is helping to present Saudi Arabia in a way that isn’t real life and hasn’t been real life for generations. Remember, the first card in Saudi didn't feature any women's wrestlers and the government issued an apology for the WWE running a video ad that featured women. Also, the strict adherence to Islamic Law in that region results in the women's division wearing ring gear that is drastically different than what they wear in other areas. It's important to highlight why these issues occurred and changes are put into place when the WWE travels to Saudi Arabia a few times each year.

And it’s not just the WWE. As mentioned, the UFC and several other organizations are doing the same thing. Several media outlets have moved on from covering the full aspect of this sportswashing campaign. Take Ariel Helwani as an example. Perhaps the most important MMA journalist in the business, but he had Turki Al-Sheikh, the Chairman of the General Entertainment Authority for Saudi Arabia on his popular show, “The MMA Hour.” They spoke on a wide range of topics, but never once addressed the serious issues that continue to plague those living in the country every day.

What’s really become unfortunate about this is the response from consumers. Sports and entertainment fans are the perfect group to be complicit in sports washing because they are willing to turn a blind eye to transgressions as long as they are getting the valued entertainment they demand. Even beyond that, if those consumers decided to speak out with their dollar and time, those two tools have even less power today. Thanks to the site fees that WWE, UFC, and other sports companies receive, these events are extraordinarily profitable for the company, well before customers spend money or time to watch. Organizations have effectively cut out the need for customers when it comes to this partnership with Saudi Arabia.

Fans will watch WWE King and Queen of the Ring and celebrate the great wrestling that is going to be on the show. Media will cover the event. But that doesn’t wipe away the stain that should be pointed out every time WWE acts as the public relations arm for a government that is considered one of the most oppressive in the world.