Stamford-based WWE is defending its decision not to include female wrestlers at the “Greatest Royal Rumble,” taking place in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on Friday.
In an interview with the British newspaper The Independent, Paul Levesque, WWE’s executive vice president of talent, live events and creative – but better known to wrestling fans as Triple H – defended the company’s decision to host an all-male wrestling match. “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,” he said. “You can’t dictate to a country or a religion about how they handle things, but having said that, WWE is at the forefront of a women’s evolution in the world, and what you can’t do is effect change anywhere by staying away from it.”
Levesque noted the presence of Alexa Bliss and Sasha Banks in a WWE bout staged last December in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates – albeit wearing full-body suits rather than their usual skin-bearing two-piece outfits. “When you can take female performers from WWE to someplace where those opportunities don’t necessarily exist, that’s so culturally significant,” he said.
Not only will women be absent from the WWE stage in Jeddah, their presence in the audience will be severely restricted. Under Saudi Arabian law, women can only attend sporting events if accompanied by a husband or male relative.
Nonetheless, Levesque predicted Saudi Arabia had the capacity of becoming more progressive in women’s rights. “While, right now, women are not competing in the event, we have had discussions about that and we believe and hope that in the next few years they will be,” he added. “That is a significant cultural shift in Saudi Arabia. The country is in the middle of a shift in how it is dealing with that – the position is changing, and rights are changing, as are the way women are handled and treated in society. We think that’s a great thing and we’re excited to be at the forefront of that change.”
In March, WWE signed a 10-year contract with Saudi Arabia’s General Sports Authority. In fact, the “Greatest Royal Rumble” event is sponsored and financed by the Authority, which is essentially an arm of the royal government. The kingdom is reviving its KSA Sports network to broadcast the WWE shows and other Saudi Arabian-based sporting events, including the Super World Boxing Cup final and Grand Prix auto race scheduled for May.