WWE Crown Jewel: The Cubic Zirconia of International Relations
In 1985, a group of artists including the likes of Bruce Springsteen, U2, Miles Davis, RUN-DMC, Pat Benatar, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, and Gil Scott-Heron joined forces for Artists United Against Apartheid and the charity single, “Sun City”. There was significant international opposition to Apartheid, which lead to many influential global social movements, including Sun City and Artists United Against Apartheid.
In 2018, the world is watching Saudi Arabia as they call into question the country’s policies on human rights especially in the wake of the apparent assassination of Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. This comes after a summer of tensions between the Saudi and Canadian governments over the jailing of women’s rights activists. Curiously, wrapped up into this international smackdown is World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) who recently entered into a ten-year partnership with the Saudi General Sports Authority, which kicked off with The Greatest Royal Rumble event in April, and continues with Crown Jewel today.
I wasn’t too thrilled about this new tag team partnership, especially when details surrounding the Greatest Royal Rumble began to emerge. The female superstars of WWE were not allowed to perform at the event, despite the fact that the company has been touting their “women’s evolution” and featuring more female superstars in high profile matches.
Male superstars were also affected once the event began to take shape. Finn Balor was not wearing his “Balor Club for everyone” t-shirt, which saw proceeds go to GLAAD when he walked into the arena in Jeddah. Members of the LGBTQ+ community definitely didn’t accompany him during his entrance, like at WrestleMania only a few weeks prior. If he wore that shirt, or walked out with those people, he would have likely been thrown in jail; or worse.
Sami Zayn was not able to perform based on his Syrian heritage and Saudi Arabia’s relationship with that country. During the show, a promo for an upcoming WWE event being held back in the US was aired which featured female Superstars, and the Saudi Arabia General Sports Authority released an apology because of it.
Don’t worry though, Saudi women were allowed to attend the event, but only if they were accompanied by a male chaperone. (You know their husband, father, or owner.)
Crown Jewel takes place less than a week after WWE Evolution the company’s first-ever all women’s pay per view event. The historic show was announced in late July but a month later, it was rumoured that WWE would be returning to Saudi Arabia shortly after Evolution creating a poorly timed coincidence at best.
Then came news of the assassination and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi and the whole world seemingly became interested in WWE’s next move. US Senators on both sides of the aisle began to criticize WWE’s decision to hold Crown Jewel in Saudi Arabia, especially as businesses severed ties with the country. Mainstream attention was garnered from Vice, who published an article about the mess that WWE was now in, and John Oliver delivered his own wrestling style smack talk about the whole situation on HBO’s Last Week Tonight.
Despite negative mainstream attention, warnings from US government officials, and top stars like John Cena and Daniel Bryan refusing to participate in the event, WWE made an almost last minute decision to go on with the show. Tickets for Crown Jewel only went on sale days ago.
There are those in the WWE camp who believe the company is actually helping to promote social change. In April after concerns were raised about the female Superstars appearing at the Greatest Royal Rumble, WWE’s COO Paul “Triple H” Levesque said, “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.”
These discussions have presumably lead to Renee Young joining her commentary colleagues at the announcer’s table and calling Crown Jewel. This is indeed a big deal, since a story broke last month, in which a man and a woman were allegedly jailed for posting of a video of themselves eating together.
I agree with Triple H to an extent, you certainly can’t dictate how a country or religion handles important “things” like human rights, you can certainly criticize a country or religion. Young working the event, sitting with her male co-workers and not being covered by a tarp is certainly a progressive move though.
Fans have been critical as of late, with live audiences booing any mention of Crown Jewel (especially when the event was hyped at Evolution). In fact, it seems that WWE has stopped mentioning that Crown Jewel is taking place in Saudi Arabia, instead referring to it as a “global pay per view event”.
Finally, the idea that we cannot criticize a country, religion or culture is a dangerous one. If you believe that, perhaps you would not have been on the side of the Artists United Against Apartheid in 1985, nor would you be on the side of John Cena and Daniel Bryan in 2018. On the flip side, if we did stop criticizing other countries for their politics and culture, we would also have to leave Donald Trump and the rest of America alone, which would provide more free time watch wrestling.