WWE superstars John Cena and Daniel Bryan have reportedly opted to not perform at the WWE Crown Jewel event in Saudi Arabia on November 2. WWE are scheduled to hold their second show in Saudi Arabia this year labelled the Crown Jewel but may be without two crowd favourites owing to the death of Saudi journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey. The Saudi government are alleged to have been behind the sanction of the killing.
The Saudi Arabian government has claimed that Khashoggi was killed in a fistfight, but many observers believe it was a premeditated political assassination that government leaders knew about or orchestrated.
Responding to the report of the wrestlers refusing to travel to Saudi Arabia, WWE said, “WWE issued this statement on the matter: “As always, we maintain an open line of communication with our performers and will address each situation accordingly.”
Cena, who is currently set to compete in the World Cup tournament, will be replaced on WWE RAW on Monday and Bryan’s WWE Championship match against AJ Styles will be held leading into Crown Jewel with Daniel not actually participating.
Cena and Bryan both were part of the earlier event in Saudi Arabia called the WWE Greatest Royal Rumble with the former beating Triple H in a match. Bryan was one of the two entrants in the Royal Rumble match and lasted an hour and 16 minutes inside the ring – thus breaking the longevity record.
WWE were under pressure to cancel the WWE Crown Jewel event, to take place at the King Saud University Stadium in Riyadh, but opted to go ahead stating they were honouring a contractual obligation in line with other American companies. WWE and Saudi General Sports Authority are under a ten year contract with the wrestling entity reportedly earning between $20 million and $50 million per show.
“WWE has operated in the Middle East for nearly 20 years and has developed a sizable and dedicated fan base,” began a statement in the Connecticut based company’s Q3 earnings published on its their website. “Considering the heinous crime committed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, the Company faced a very difficult decision as it relates to its event scheduled for November 2 in Riyadh.”
“Similar to other US-based companies who plan to continue operations in Saudi Arabia, the Company has decided to uphold its contractual obligations to the General Sports Authority and stage the event. Full-year 2018 guidance is predicated on the staging of the Riyadh event as scheduled.”
WWE has been criticised for being allowed to be used as a propaganda tool by the Saudi government. It was pointed out that TV viewers of WWE Greatest Royal Rumble were told throughout the show about the changing nature of Saudi Arabia. Riyadh was referred to as a “vibrant, progressive city” and the Saudi government’s “Vision 2030” economic plan was highlighted.