If you haven’t heard of it yet then you’re in for a surprise. The WWE is holding a massive event in Saudi Arabia. The company is putting on a lavish show and that almost certainly rival - or even dwarf - this year’s WrestleMania. Chris Jericho has returned after a program in NJPW, The Undertaker is wrestling in another match for some reason, Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns have one more rematch, and Triple H is in action again, this time against John Cena. The card boasts a near perfect fantasy draft series of dream matches. Why then is this happening in Saudi Arabia?
As a part of an ongoing effort to bring a series of economic reforms to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the WWE agreed to a ten year deal with the country. This deal will start in earnest with the Greatest Royal Rumble show this weekend and continue on with more shows in country and a training center to be built at a later date. This is what the WWE have been seeking, a foothold in a new region. It’s been clear the WWE don’t want smaller companies to spring up and start farming talent from other regions. The United Kingdom, Japan, southern Asia, and the Middle East have all started to become small springs of talent and wrestling promotions. So the WWE have taken it upon themselves to swoop into each region, where possible, and establish a foundation. Saudi Arabia is going out of their way to help the WWE out.
It all comes with a cost however. Saudi Arabia is a country with a lot of issues. Chief among them is how the country treats women. If you glance up and down the Greatest Royal Rumble card you’ll notice an omission: women. No women will be wrestling at this show and moreover if any women wants to attend, she must be accompanied by a man. It’s Saudi law. Respecting a country’s culture and wishes is a major concern of anyone, let alone a multinational corporation. However I take issue with that same company touting another Middle Eastern match that took place just late last year.
In December of 2017, in Abu Dhabi, Sasha Banks and Alexa Bliss wrestled. It was the first women’s match in Abu Dhabi and in one of their own self-produced documentaries the WWE touted the match as a milestone. They played up how women and girls in the audience looked up to both wrestlers. How they could see the dreams and wishes of those girls growing inside their own minds. It was a beautiful moment where the social impact of wrestling could truly be felt. And while Sasha nor Alexa could wear their typical ring gear, they covered up more to respect the culture, they were still allowed to compete. Months later in Saudi Arabia and neither Alexa or Sasha would be allowed to walk the country’s streets without a male escort.
Confronting religious or cultural norms with more socially liberal ones is tough. Suggesting the entire Middle East should reconstruct their laws and culture so women can wrestle would be inappropriate. However blindly accepting these rules without acknowledging them while simultaneously claiming to celebrate and promote women is betrayal. Respecting a culture doesn’t mean conforming to it’s every wish and demand. Just like here in the United States, some of our cultural normalities should be challenged and changed, Saudi Arabia is no different. And now the WWE is establishing a training center there, I assume with no women allowed.