For the first time, women will be allowed to perform at a WWE event in Saudi Arabia.
Lacey Evans and Natalya will take part in a first-of-its-kind match at WWE’s “Crown Jewel” event in Riyadh on Thursday, the company announced Wednesday.
WWE and the Saudi government entered a 10-year partnership in 2018 to bring large-scale wrestling events to the country. The agreement has been a controversial one, given the country’s history of human rights abuses and its treatment of women. Last year’s Crown Jewel show was nearly called off after the Saudi government murdered dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi at an embassy in Turkey.
Women have previously been banned from performing at WWE’s shows in Saudi Arabia. The government issued an apology after women appeared in a promotional video shown on an in-stadium screen during the first event under the 10-year deal in 2018.
WWE executive Paul “Triple H” Levesque said before that first show that he hoped women would be permitted to compete at events in Saudi Arabia in the future.
The absence of women had loomed large over the first three events under the new partnership. The shows had been presented as helping to modernize Saudi culture as the country attempts to shed its regressive public image. But the all-male card stood in contrast to WWE’s highly publicized efforts to highlight female talent after years of treating women unequally.
Women have performed at other WWE events in the Middle East. In 2017, Sasha Banks and Alexa Bliss wrestled in Abu Dhabi wearing specially made ring gear that covered their entire bodies.