Amid reports pointing to Saudi Arabia allegedly carrying out a brutal assassination of Washington Post journalist and United States resident Jamal Khashoggi, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) is facing mounting backlash over its multi-million dollar live event deal with the kingdom. And with the company having direct ties to the White House, Capitol Hill is putting pressure on the sports entertainment giant to reconsider its fruitful Saudi relationship just weeks before its next massive event in Riyadh.
“This is a brazen assault on the freedom of the press and a slap in the face to the United States, if this murder occurred as it seems it did,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told IJR when asked about the upcoming WWE event. Murphy not only sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he also represents Connecticut, where WWE headquarters are located.
In three weeks, WWE, the pro wrestling juggernaut founded by Chairman Vince McMahon, is set to hold its second massive, Super Bowl-like event in Saudi Arabia when it brings WWE Crown Jewel to King Saud University Stadium as part of its ten-year multi-million dollar deal with the kingdom. But with reports continuing to emerge detailing the alleged kidnapping and killing of Khashoggi, a vocal critic of the kingdom, the WWE’s lucrative deal could be in jeopardy.
“Because [Linda McMahon] is part of the president’s cabinet […] the administration really should give it some thought and maybe even prevail upon them not doing it.”
“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 [WWE Crown Jewl],” Murphy added.
The kingdom has denied killing Khashoggi and has insisted he left the consulate shortly after he arrived.
Other senators on the Senate Foreign Relations committee also expressed concern over WWE’s upcoming Saudi event, including Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), who at first acted surprised by the news regarding the future event, told IJR that the company “should be taking a hard look” at its relationship with the kingdom moving forward.
“There should be a pause,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told IJR concerning WWE’s business dealings with the kingdom. The South Carolina Republican has been one of the more vocally aggressive senators following the news Khashoggi’s disappearance, saying that “there would be hell to pay” if the missing Washington Post contributor was killed by the Saudi government, as Turkish officials have claimed.
“I want a complete rethinking of our relationship,” Graham added.
To make things even more complicated for the WWE’s business dealings with Saudi Arabia, the company’s co-founder, Linda McMahon, who is also married to the current chairman and CEO, is in the Trump administration as Small Business Administrator, a tie that should lead the president to consider asking McMahon to halt dealings with the kingdom, according to one senator.
“Private enterprise is private enterprise, different than a governmental entity,” Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) 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.”
IJR reached out to McMahon’s office for comment but has yet to hear back.
In response to the growing pressure linked to the November Saudi event, WWE provided IJR with only the following statement: “We are currently monitoring the situation.”
WWE has already taken serious heat for its recent lucrative dealings with the kingdom, sparking controversy during the company’s first major live event in the country earlier this year for excluding women performers from the show while also airing anti-Iran propaganda during the event.
“I understand that people are questioning it, but you have to understand that every culture is different and just because you don’t agree with a certain aspect of it, it doesn’t mean it’s not a relevant culture,” Paul “Triple H” Levesque, WWE’s Executive Vice President, Talent and a performer said back in April.
“While women are not competing in the event, we have had discussions about that and hope that, in the next few years they will be,” he added.