Two star wrestlers may refuse to fight in Saudi Arabia

The wrestler John Cena refuses to return to Saudi Arabia.
The wrestler John Cena refuses to return to Saudi Arabia.
Image: AP/Jonathan Bachman
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This coming Friday (Nov. 2), World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) is scheduled to hold a major event at the the King Saud University Stadium in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. It looks like two of WWE’s biggest start won’t be there.

According to a report from Newsweek, the wrestlers John Cena and Daniel Bryan are refusing to fight in the Saudi Arabian capital. Their refusal comes after the death of the Saudi journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey.

The Saudi Arabian government claims that Khashoggi was killed in a fistfight, but many observers believe it was a premeditated political assassination that government leaders knew about or orchestrated. Both Cena and Bryan fought in Saudi Arabia in April 2018, so their refusals are almost certainly a result of the international firestorm over Khashoggi’s death.

The WWE faced pressure to cancel the event, but is choosing to go forward. The event, titled the Crown Jewel, is the second event in a 10-year contract between the WWE and the Saudi General Sports Authority. The WWE is paid between $20 million and $50 million per show staged in the country, according to Deadspin.

The WWE has been criticized for allowing the Saudi Arabian government to use their events as propaganda for the Saudi government. On a recent episode of his HBO show Last Week Tonight, host John Oliver pointed out that television viewers of the first event in Saudi Arabia were told throughout the show about the changing nature of Saudi Arabia. Riyadh was referred to by the announcers as a “vibrant, progressive city” and the Saudi government’s “Vision 2030” economic plan was highlighted.

The company made the following statement regarding their decision to go forward with the Crown Jewel event:

WWE has operated in the Middle East for nearly 20 years and has developed a sizable and dedicated fan base. 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 U.S.-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.