Later this month, WWE will be presenting it’s first-ever WWE Network show broadcasted from Saudi Arabia, when they host an event called The Greatest Royal Rumble in front of over 60,000 fans. It’s fair to say that this card is extremely stacked, as it features a fifty-man Royal Rumble match, seven championship bouts, Triple H vs. John Cena, and a recently announced Casket Match between Rusev and The Undertaker (for whatever reason). However, there is one major omission from this historic show – female competitors.
The event has caused controversy as due to Saudi Arabian law, female competitors are currently not able to compete on the same event as male athletes. WWE’s decision to host such a major event in a country that enforces oppressive regimes such as this has outraged some fans, especially considering how much WWE have been championing their women’s evolution. Now, although hopefully we can all agree that denying people opportunities and rights purely based on gender is a horrendous, out-dated concept, and the fact is still exists anywhere is absolutely ridiculous, yet WWE choosing to go ahead with this huge event is not a bad decision, and here’s why.
First off, we have to acknowledge that WWE is a major global organisation with the sole purpose of constantly expanding their market, and ultimately, generate increasing amounts of profit. They have targeted a huge opportunity to grow their business in a new sector, and they aren’t going to shy away from such a major chance just because of that country’s customs. As much as we love to think of it as this wonderful form of entertainment we hold so dear to our hearts, WWE is a cold, corporate machine. When it comes to big business, ethics don’t come much into consideration – just look at the recent Fabulous Moolah controversy. WWE didn’t change the name of that Battle Royal when fans expressed their outrage, yet they changed it instantly once their WrestleMania sponsor, Snickers, expressed their disapproval for it. Despite that though, it doesn’t mean that positive things can’t be generated from their business decisions.
Hopefully, The Greatest Royal Rumble will act as part of a domino effect leading towards change in the country. With this all-out spectacle of a show seating over 60,000 fans, which will no doubt attract many new Network subscribers in Saudi Arabia due to who is featured in it, WWE television viewership is bound to increase there. Females may not be on the live event, but they are certainly on weekly WWE TV shows, so if more and more people watch the WWE product in Saudi Arabia, they will become more and more accommodated with their female performers competing alongside the male roster, hopefully to the point where over time, women are allowed to perform on gigantic shows such as this, and receive positive responses from fans.
Many have said that WWE should refuse to do business in Saudi Arabia if they have to isolate a large part of their roster and potentially their Western viewership to do so, yet if WWE and other such large companies refuse to operate over there, the country would just become more and more isolated from the rest of the world, causing them to stick to their traditional ways even more. It’s only through integration that values can be shared and positive influences can be made.
So if WWE want to be introduced into the Saudi Arabian market, they must at first respect their customs, even if those customs unfortunately don’t respect half of the world’s population. If WWE try to go against their rules too much too soon, e.g. introduce the same number of women’s matches we would like and expect from a regular WWE Network special, their product won’t be accepted, and they would be shunned away. Sadly, a huge change in ideology such as this can’t be done over night, it’s a gradual progression that hopefully pro wrestling can be a part of.
But change is happening in Saudi Arabia. In the last few years, women have been allowed to vote, there are now more female university graduates in Saudi Arabia than male, women are now able to drive, males and females can now attend sporting events such as this WWE one together, and more and more sports are introducing all-female events over there. Admittedly there are much bigger matters at hand, yet all of these changes add up to one greater cause, and a non-segregated show that allows both genders to perform together would be fantastic addition.
What’s more, the reason The Greatest Royal Rumble is even taking place is because of a big change within the country. Saudi Vision 2030 is a government plan to reduce Saudi Arabia’s dependence on oil, diversify its economy, and develop public service sectors such as health, education, infrastructure, recreation and tourism, as well as women’s rights. The country is already changing their ways slightly to accommodate this plan, with a new tourist resort allowing women to wear bikinis if they wish to do so, which will be “governed by laws on par with international standards.” By having WWE involved in this project for at least the next 10 years, they could play a huge part in integrating more progressive ideas into the country, and with other major global brands becoming involved with Saudi Vision, more international standards will be introduced as a result.
Now, I’m not saying pro wrestling is going to change the world and sort out everyone’s problems, far from it, but never underestimate the power of television. No matter how much people protest or voice their opinion, some just simply won’t listen, especially when it comes to values their country has held for generations. Some don’t want to be directly told how to feel or given a lecture, however, if a concept is slowly introduced more and more into a nation’s mainstream culture, it eventually becomes more and more accepted. So if WWE television exposes more viewers in Saudi Arabia to female competitors on a regular basis, combined with other shows and events hopefully doing the same, this kind of progression could slowly become accepted by a bigger proportion of their population.
Of course, this is all hypothetical, and perhaps a little optimistic of me, yet shying away from the problem won’t help either. Having no female performers allowed to be on the show right now of course is an issue, but by no means does it have to stay that way. Sure, things could unfortunately stay the same, and WWE would still make a serious amount of money regardless, yet the major steps Saudi Arabia have taken in the last few years suggest a more positive outlook for the future, and this form of entertainment we love could hopefully be a part of a significant change.
If you still don’t agree with this show, and you wish to boycott it due to the controversy surrounding it, that is completely understandable, yet I hope this article has given you some hope of where WWE’s venture into Saudi Arabia could lead to. This isn’t just a show (no doubt a really long show at that) with a stacked card of gimmick matches, a ridiculously big rumble, and Handsome Rusev in a freaking Casket Match, it could be the foundations of something much greater, which may lead it to being the Greatest Royal Rumble.