WWE reaffirms Saudi partnership after tour 'marred by unpaid fees'

WWE reaffirms Saudi partnership after tour 'marred by unpaid fees'
A recent statement from WWE on its partnership with Saudi Arabia has seemingly confirmed reports that not all is well behind the scenes.
3 min read
05 November, 2019
The WWE 'Crown Jewel' took place last week in Riyadh [Getty]
Saudi Arabia and World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) have agreed to expand their live event partnership, amid criticism and controversy surrounding the recent 'Crown Jewel' event in Riyadh.

The move was announced by the sports entertainment giant's CEO, Vince McMahon, in a statement on Monday.

"Following the historic Crown Jewel event in Riyadh, WWE (NYSE: WWE) and the Saudi General Entertainment Authority (GEA) have expanded their live event partnership through 2027 to include a second annual large-scale event," the statement said, despite the company already holding two yearly events in the kingdom.

"This long-term partnership demonstrates WWE and GEA’s commitment to bring sports entertainment to the region and supports Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030," it added, referring to Mohammed bin Salman's ambitious economic vision.

According to observers, the statement is likely WWE's way of reaffirming its business relationship with Riyadh amid turbulent times.

WWE's recent trip to Saudi Arabia for the 'Crown Jewel' event was reportedly a disaster for the wrestling company, causing many to question whether the firm can weather the internal unrest that arose during the tour.

Stars of the sports entertaiment brand were delayed on their way home - a fault which was reportedly due to "mechanical issues".

It was later reported that the athletes were prevented from leaving Saudi Arabia due to McMahon's termination of the Crown Jewel live-feed over a pay dispute.

It was alleged that the WWE boss had not been paid for previous shows in the kingdom.

This was denied by the wresting federation but some of the wrestlers on the tour indicated that more was going on behind the scenes.

According to wrestling news site BodySlam.net, a WWE star reached out to them to say that the wrestlers felt like pawns in a larger "power play".

Journalist David Meltzer said that he had also spoken to WWE stars who said they felt like "hostages", according to wrestling news site With Spandex.

Saudi Arabia's latest line of international sports and entertainments events has been dogged by controversy following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which prompted business leaders and heads of state and business to boycott a major investment conference in Riyadh last year.

In October last year, former British-Yemeni superstar boxer, Prince Naseem Hamed took an unexpected political stance during Saudi Arabia's first professional boxing event, where he highlighted the war in neighbouring Yemen to a packed out stadium in Jeddah.

The following month, Saudi Arabia hosted the 'Crown Jewel' event, prompting some fans to accuse the sports entertainment firm of accepting "Saudi blood money".

Mohammed bin Salman's reforms are seen by some as an attempt to blunt public frustration over an economic downturn and high youth unemployment.

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