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Another report says WWE talent uncomfortable with performing in Saudi Arabia

Another prominent publication just published a story on WWE’s relationship with Saudi Arabia. Sports Illustrated’s Justin Barrasso post on the company’s plans to hold their Crown Jewel pay-per-view (PPV) in Riyadh next month despite pressure to reconsider in light of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance includes a call for Vince McMahon to explain to fans why they’re continuing their relationship with the Saudi government despite allegations the royal family ordered Khashoggi’s kidnapping and/or murder, and their general poor track record on human rights.

He also says “speaking on the condition of anonymity, multiple members of the WWE talent roster have expressed discomfort with the idea of performing in Saudi Arabia”.

Barrasso’s track record on backstage rumors is far from perfect, but if nothing else, his using his platform to amplify this one is noteworthy. SI usually covers wrestling, but it’s frequented by readers who are focused on things beyond WWE. Like John Oliver’s mentions of the company’s Saudi partnership on HBO’s Last Week Tonight, this will reach a broader audience than reporting from Wrestling Observer or posts on this site.

Aside from further damaging WWE’s reputation in the court of public opinion, it’s questionable what impact the item about reservations among talent might have - if any at all. The company couldn’t do anything to publicly punish a performer who decided to sit out Crown Jewel, but there are plenty of smaller, more plausibly deniable steps they could take to negatively impact their career. The fact that anyone who is uncomfortable will only say so off the record is pretty telling.

File this as another interesting discussion point, but it’s unclear what it is beyond that. Barrasso and SI’s public questioning is probably worth as much as talent’s unspoken objections.

Will any amount of open or privately expressed criticism change Vince McMahon’s mind? Without action by the United States government, which seems unlikely between now and Nov. 2, it feels like a long shot.

You can read Barrasso’s piece on here.

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