WWE’s deal with Saudi Arabia has come under scrutiny after the apparent killing of a journalist.
Several U.S. Senators have questioned WWE’s business relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the wake of the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributor and U.S. permanent resident, disappeared in Istanbul last week and Turkish authorities believe he was killed and dismembered at the behest of the Saudi government because of his criticism of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s regime. The Turks have audio recordings proving Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi embassy in Istanbul, the Post reported Thursday.
The news comes less than a month before WWE’s scheduled Crown Jewel show in Riyadh, and now multiple senators are urging WWE to reconsider its arrangement with the kingdom. IJR received input from four senators, all of whom expressed varying levels of objection.
The strongest rebuke came from New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez.
“Private enterprise is private enterprise, different than a governmental entity,” Menendez told IJR. “but because [Linda McMahon] is part of the president’s cabinet, it falls into the grey area where the administration really should give it some thought and maybe even prevail upon them not doing it.”
One of the senators representing WWE’s home state had similar thoughts.
“I’d hope that they would be rethinking their relationship with the kingdom especially with respect to events coming up in the next weeks like [Crown Jewel],” Democrat Chris Murphy of Connecticut told IJR.
Republican Lindsay Graham of South Carolina and Delaware Democrat Chris Coons also urged WWE to examine its work with the oppressive regime.
WWE released a very brief statement on the issue to the media Thursday evening: “We are currently monitoring the situation.”
Crown Jewel is the second show in WWE’s 10-year partnership with Saudi Arabia, following April’s Greatest Royal Rumble, which reportedly earned WWE $45 million from the Saudi government. The deal is about more than just wrestling shows, too. The agreement is part of the country’s “Vision 2030” campaign that aims to present the country as more modern and highlight bin Salman’s modest reforms. During the Greatest Royal Rumble, while the show in the stadium was paused for a mandatory prayer break, viewers watching at home on WWE Network were shown a two-minute video that declared “It’s the dawning of a new age in Saudi Arabia.”