WWE’s decision to enter into a ten year partnership with The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and kick it off with Greatest Royal Rumble on Friday, April 27 has met with some pushback from fans and industry observers upset the company is doing business with a regime which still imposes conservative Islamic cultural standards throughout their country. While there are other areas where WWE’s usually inclusive marketing efforts won’t be showcased during the event in Jeddah (such Finn Bálor’s LGBTQ-friendly merchandise), most of the criticism has focused on the inability of women wrestlers to perform at Greatest Royal Rumble - especially considering how much the company’s promoted its “Women’s Evolution” over the last few years.
Compared to recent public relations controversies WWE’s faced, their show in Saudi Arabia has flown largely under the radar. As we get closer to the show, however, questions are starting to come up from mainstream media. That’s what happened when Paul Levesque, the company’s Executive Vice President of Talent, Live Events and Creative who will also work the show as Triple H, spoke to The Independent.
In general, it’s a similar answer to what many fans who’ve defended Greatest Royal Rumble and the Saudi Arabian deal have given... it’s not what we want, but progress is happening and WWE is a part of that. The big difference is, Levesque expresses some hope women will wrestle on a show in the country relatively soon:
“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.
The country is in the middle of a shift in how it is dealing with that – the position is changing, and rights are changing, as are the way women are handled and treated in society. We think that’s a great thing and we’re excited to be at the forefront of that change.”
As evidence, he points to the company’s recent trip to Abu Dhabi, where they put on their first women’s match (despite WWE’s narrative, it was not the first women’s match in the country, as TNA had their Knockouts in the ring there during a 2010 trip):
“You talk about the cultural shift in the world, and just a few months ago we were in Abu Dhabi and had the first ever match with women competing, with a crowd of women, men and little boys in the audience with tears in their eyes.
The audience were chanting ‘This is Hope’ – that is cultural change.”
Given that the company decided to go into business with the Saudis, this is the best answer we could expect. It may feel different if women are wrestling at the 2019 or 2020 Greatest Royal Rumble. It will certainly be different when women can drive to a future show, and if they can attend by themselves without a father or husband.
Triple H and WWE are speaking of hope. The history books will tell us if that hope was well-founded.
Check out the full piece in The Independent here.