Last night saw the WWE Crown Jewel come to Riyadh. The event is being praised for how it embodies the diplomatic power of sport, and highlighting the WWE’s support for Saudi Arabia’s social reforms.
The four-hour event from King Saud Stadium in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, featured a new universal champion being crowned, a superstar being named the "best in the world" at the end of the World Cup tournament and a nostalgic main event between DeGeneration X and the Brothers of Destruction.
The event has positive business implications for the WWE – which is known for using sports entertainment as a form of global diplomacy.
Connecting the world
The Crown Jewel has been praised for the way in which it utilises sport to cut boundaries and connect the world.
Raw Women’s Champion Ronda Rousey emphasised the power of sporting diplomacy in an emotive manner.
The UFC Hall of Famer and two-time Olympian gave an anecdote of her experiences at the 2004 Olympics, where she trained alongside an Iraqi boxer, at the start of the Iraq War, stressing how sports helps form common grounds where cultures can be shared.
Expressing optimism about how the WWE in Saudi Arabia will enhance global unity: This is a great opportunity to have a bunch of kids in Saudi Arabia loving a part of American culture […] then you’ll see people from Saudi Arabia going into the WWE, and kids from America [admiring] those people. It’s a great way for us to share something and understand each-other.”
John Bradshaw Layfield approached the matter politically. The retired wrestler turned financial commentator told the Fox Business Network about the need to help Saudi Arabia promote change, citing Cuba as an example of a country that was “impoverished” because it was isolated, before referencing the WWE’s relevant success in this pursuit: “WWE went to Abu Dhabi, did the first women’s match that had ever happened in the Middle-East, the crowd was chanting in English: ‘this is change’”.
John Cena and Daniel Bryan are not set to attend the Riyadh event.
In the case of Bryan, his planned title match against AJ Styles was brought forward to Tuesday’s episode of Smackdown. Rumors suggested that Bryan’s burial (a humiliating loss that relegates a wrestler’s status in the eyes of the fans) was punishment for his Crown Jewel bailout.
However, WWE insider Bryan Alvarez said that Bryan’s submission to Styles was the planned finish for Crown Jewel. This means that the WWE Creative Team had already intended to write Bryan out of the main events.
In the case of John Cena, his ambitions to transition into Hollywood are believed to be a motivation. Nonetheless, he has received backlash for his absence. Some fans have labelled Cena a hypocrite, citing a previous feud with The Rock where Cena accused The Rock of betraying the WWE in favour of Hollywood. When TMZ asked his (professional) rival Randy Orton was asked about Cena’s absence, he simply responded: “does he still wrestle?”
Former WWE Champion Mark Henry cited ethical grounds for not supporting Cena’s action, telling TMZ: “I am a firm believer in not leaving people out to dry […] I didn’t want to screw [the fans] over.”
The Crown Jewel has positive political and business implications for the WWE. In the short-term – WWE Q3 investor reports indicate that the increase of media revenues by 9% compensated for income from live events falling fell from $31.6m to $26.7m. This momentum is supported by enhancing the WWE’s international exposure, via events such as the Crown Jewel.
In the long-term, the WWE using the Crown Jewel as a form of diplomacy, to offer an olive branch to Saudi Arabia and the Middle-East - is consistent with the company’s Corporate Social Responsibilities – which include the raising awareness of breast cancer and campaigning to challenge bullying.
The WWE has previously gained positive publicity for its social work – including visiting the scene of 9/11, hosting a show just 2 days later in Texas, as well as taking their shows to Iraq and Afghanistan. In this regard, history may ultimately look back positively on the WWE’s decision to support Saudi Arabia, in the process of social changes.
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