WWE held an event in Saudi Arabia which sparked a debate about LGBT+ and women's rights

Greg Evans
Saturday 28 April 2018 10:15
sport

WWE held a huge event in Saudi Arabia named the 'Greatest Royal Rumble' - but it was marred by controversy before and during its broadcast.

The show was the first major western wrestling event ever to be held in the country and took place at the King Abdullah International Stadium in Jeddah.

The event had largely been criticised for being a publicity stunt and a piece of propaganda for the Saudi government through the Saudi General Sports Authority, which has entered into a 10-year deal with the WWE.

Although the event featured ten matches, none of them included any women whatsoever due to the strict lack of rights that women have in the country.

This flies in the face of the company's recent attempts to promote women more heavily on their product with stars like Ronda Rousey, Charlotte Flair, Asuka, Nia Jax and Alexa Bliss all featuring in marquee matches at Wrestlemania, the company's biggest show of the year.

Not only were the female wrestlers ostracised from the show female presenters like Renee Young were not present either.

Furthermore, Stephanie McMahon and Michelle Wilson, two of the most senior officials behind-the-scenes in WWE, were not present at a meal before the event, as reported by wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer.

Meltzer had also reported on the unique ticketing system, which prioritised good seats (i.e. ones that could be seen on camera) as if to promote a more female-friendly environment.

As per the Wrestling Observer Newsletter:

So in the 62,000 seat stadium, which would likely be set up for 52,000 with a stage, all of the good seats are reserved for families because that’s the look they want.

The only way you can purchase a seat in most of the arena is that your family has to include at least one adult woman.

As the show started, Twitter was awash with criticism for WWE for willing to run a show in a country with such a problematic history with women.

In addition, one of WWE's top stars Finn Balor, who is a big supporter of LGBT+ equality and inclusion, did not wear his rainbow tights or t-shirt, which he has been sporting in recent weeks and through which he has raised money for charity.

Homosexuality is prohibited in Saudi Arabia and being gay can be punishable by death.

Balor, real name Fergal Deviit, has since put out a statement about the absence of the tights and says that he continues to support LGBT+ rights.

There were mixed feelings about Balor's decision.

Another talking point was the absence of wrestler Sami Zayn, who is of Syrian descent and works as an activist for the protection of children in the war-torn nation.

Pro Wrestling Sheet report that Zayn may have chosen to sit out the show, but may have also been forced to miss it due to Saudi Arabia's strained diplomatic ties with Syria.

WWE said in a statement:

WWE is committed to embracing individuals from all backgrounds while respecting local customs and cultural differences around the world.

However, there were voices of support for WWE's decision to run a show in the country as many felt that their presence might be a chance to change the social climate in the country.

One of WWE's top female stars, Sasha Banks also tweeted the words "one day" during the show.

WWE had addressed the concerns prior to the event.

Speaking to The Independent, executive vice president of talent, live events and creative, Paul 'Triple H' Levesque, admitted that discussions have been held and they are looking to hopefully include women's wrestling on the show in the future.

He said:

I understand that people are questioning it, but you have to understand that every culture is different and just because you don’t agree with a certain aspect of it, it doesn’t mean it’s not a relevant culture.

You can’t dictate to a country or a religion about how they handle things but, having said that, WWE is at the forefront of a women’s evolution in the world and what you can’t do is affect change anywhere by staying away from it.

While, right now, women are not competing in the event, we have had discussions about that and we believe and hope that, in the next few years they will be. That is a significant cultural shift in Saudi Arabia.

More: This map shows where it is still illegal to be gay

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