By Erin Dick
I have been a WWE fan since I was eight years old. As a child, I begged my parents to take me to shows. Every Christmas, I asked for a new wrestling T-shirt or DVD. Even now, as a young adult, I subscribe to a streaming service to watch WWE content regularly. As of 2 November, WWE will not see another dollar from me.
My decision to boycott their product comes with the announcement that they will be going ahead with their controversial event in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, WWE Crown Jewel, despite public outrage. The event is part of a 10-year multi-million-dollar deal between WWE officials and the Saudi General Sport Authority.
The announcement came as a response to a much bigger dilemma: The killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi was seen entering the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul of 2 October, and he never reemerged. At first, the Saudi Arabian government denied his death. On 20 October, they admitted that Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate. It wasn’t until the 25 October that Saudi Arabia’s attorney general confessed to the murder being premeditated, Saudi officials adhering to admissions that he was killed by a team of agents sent from Riyadh. His body is yet to be recovered.
In the wake of an earth-shattering political event, I am overwhelmed. It’s difficult to know how to respond to such an act of corruption and hatred. So, when a company I have grown up with and believed in for so long refuses to condemn these events, this is the only response of protest I can surmount to.
The Crown Jewel event, set to be held at the King Saud University Stadium, comes nearly six months after the WWE Greatest Royal Rumble event in Jeddah, which took place at the King Abdullah Intentional Stadium. 60,000 fans were reported in attendance at the Greatest Royal Rumble. On Sunday, the Chairman of the General Sport Authority stated on Twitter, “In less than three hours, WWE tickets were sold in full.” The venue for Crown Jewel holds a lesser 25,000 seats, a downgrade from the originally booked King Fahd International Stadium, a near 70,000-seater venue. While there has been no statement issued regarding the reason for the change, it has been speculated by wrestling journalists that WWE wanted to better their chances of a full house.
Despite constant appeals to get the event cancelled, WWE confirmed that it would be on with the show, in the following statement:
"WWE has operated in the Middle East for nearly 20 years and has developed a sizable and dedicated fan base. Considering the heinous crime committed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, the Company faced a very difficult decision as it relates to its event scheduled for November 2 in Riyadh. Similar to other U.S.-based companies who plan to continue operations in Saudi Arabia, the Company has decided to uphold its contractual obligations to the General Sports Authority and stage the event. Full year 2018 guidance is predicated on the staging of the Riyadh event as scheduled."
I’m not at all shocked that WWE officials are keeping their heads down. It’s not the first time it’s been a case of “business must go on” for the WWE Chairman, Vince McMahon. Like that time in 1989 when he completely pulled back the curtain on the workings of pro wrestling to get out of paying tax. Sponsors of events elsewhere, such as the “Davos in the Desert” anti-corruption conference, are pulling out of deals with urgency. Looking at the McMahon’s political alignments, it should come as no surprise that there are no signs of moral panic from the company’s executives.
My shock occurred when interacting with fans over the topic. These fans, who although not happy with the decision, seemed to accept that the monopoly that is WWE would resist backlash and continue as planned with the event. Despite personal conflicts, they would willingly continue to feed into the multi-billion-dollar enterprise.
This isn’t about money. This is about ethics.
Sure, screaming and shouting on Twitter about how furious I am isn’t going to achieve much. There are facts about the nature of the situation that can’t be changed. However, I can let my ethics guide my purchases. I might only be one person – I’ll hardly make a dent in WWE's net worth going at it solo – But, what if everyone who currently subscribed to the network decided to pull the plug?
If you’re not a regular member of the WWE consumer-verse, you’re probably wondering how this applies to you. Remember how you used to bully us fans for liking a “fake sport”? For indulging in utopian, mindless, escapism for kids? I’m asking you sincerely, to bully us once more, for the right reasons. To buy into WWE’s monolith, is to align with their negligence and recklessness. I might be confident to be seen in my favourite wrestling T-shirt, but this is a label I don’t want over my head.
With WWE visiting Melbourne as recently as early October (the first live WWE pay-per-view event broadcast from Australia since 2002, WWE Super Show-Down) , we are a key contributor to their financial success. We might not be providing them with the fat stacks that the Saudi Crown Prince has himself offered to keep this show on – If you look at the embarrassingly “nostalgic” match card adorned with male relics of yesteryear, you’ll see the bigger picture of money from the masses. However, what we can provide from here in Australia is a vital voice. Foxtel have continued their long-running deal with WWE through live broadcasting episodes of RAW and SmackDown Live. In what has been a turbulent free-to-air trade deal, Channel 9 are currently hosting shortened WWE content, and Main Event continue to provide access to pay-per-views via Foxtel and Optus Television. All of this could not exist without consumer demand. Aussies are eating it up, and WWE is loving it.
Additionally, both John Cena and Daniel Bryan (both major stars billed high on the event’s card) have pulled out of the show. Cena and Bryan are not the only performers to have expressed discomfort about the event, a clear indicator that the issue is at the top of the food chain.
While current WWE RAW Women’s Champion, Ronda Rousey, will not be competing on the event (as women are banned from performing in Saudi Arabia) she featured the main event of 28 October WWE Evolution, the “first ever all-women’s pay-per-view” with lacklustre backing from WWE themselves, to say the least. She believes that if fans in Saudi Arabia buy Crown Jewel, they will be exposed to Evolution and other WWE programming featuring female competitors. She says to TMZ, “… women can’t compete in Saudi Arabia right now, but if the Crown Jewel is a huge success and WWE really takes off in Saudi Arabia then (fans) are going to demanding to see the women too.” While she acknowledges that these things take time, with WWE’s pseudo-progressive veneer and reluctance to front up to political criticism, the event of their pushing for such change seems unlikely.
Things can change. We have an entirely new family-friendly product in modern WWE than we did as little as ten years ago. uprooted a culture of drug abuse for the betterment of their talent and to reshape their public image for the better. It’s not impossible.
WWE Executives are hearing what they want to hear. So, why don’t we give it right back to them, and switch off? Whether you’re a fan or a bystander, we are just as accountable for upholding the ethical and moral standard of our entertainment industries, particularly that with the global reach of WWE. Even in all this noise, our voices matter. With all their work advocating for the fight against cancer and promoting youth wellbeing, we can’t turn a blind eye now.
I will not be watching Crown Jewel, and neither should you.
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