WWE confirms Saudi wrestling event in Q3 earnings report despite searing backlash over Jamal Khashoggi's death

  • World Wrestling Entertainment on Thursday officially confirmed it will stage its "Crown Jewel" event in Saudi Arabia early next month, in spite of the global outcry against the kingdom over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
  • "Considering the heinous crime committed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, the company faced a very difficult decision as it relates to its event scheduled for Nov. 2 in Riyadh," WWE officials said in their quarterly earnings report released Thursday morning.
  • WWE drew scrutiny for keeping mum about its plans for the event after Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and critic of the Saudi royal family, disappeared on Oct. 2.
WWE Wrestlers participating in the Crown Jewel event in Saudi Arabia. 
Source: WWE
WWE Wrestlers participating in the Crown Jewel event in Saudi Arabia. 

World Wrestling Entertainment on Thursday officially confirmed it will stage its "Crown Jewel" event in Saudi Arabia early next month, in spite of the global outcry against the kingdom over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

"Considering the heinous crime committed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, the company faced a very difficult decision as it relates to its event scheduled for Nov. 2 in Riyadh," WWE officials said in their quarterly earnings report released Thursday morning.

"Similar to other U.S.-based companies who plan to continue operations in Saudi Arabia, the company has decided to uphold its contractual obligations" and hold the event.

On an earnings phone call later Thursday, WWE Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon declined to answer further questions about the decision. "We're not going to talk a lot about that; it's a very sensitive subject, naturally," McMahon said, ESPN reported. "I think our statement said pretty much all we want to say about that today."

WWE drew scrutiny for keeping mum about its plans for the Nov. 2 wrestling event in Riyadh after Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and critic of the Saudi royal family, disappeared. On Oct. 2, Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, and never came out.

After days of denials and amid mounting circumstantial evidence, Saudi Arabia eventually admitted that Khashoggi had died in the consulate, though their story differed from what Turkish officials had said.

But the kingdom's story changed again Thursday morning, when state-run media reported that the killing was pre-meditated, contrary to initial claims that Khashoggi's death was an accident.

As the kingdom weathered an avalanche of criticism from politicians and organizations around the globe, the WWE maintained that it was "currently monitoring the situation" as recently as Wednesday.

The statement was unchanged even amid an exodus of companies and people, including CNBC, from the Riyadh-based Future Investment Initiative conference. That thinned-out conference was held a few days before Crown Jewel is scheduled to start.

The WWE has close ties to the White House. McMahon's wife, Linda McMahon, serves in President Donald Trump's administration as the Administrator of the Small Business Administration. She lost to both of Connecticut's current Democratic senators, Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, in separate races in 2009 and 2012.

The company's promotion for the event, though reportedly scant, still received a backlash from fans on social media.

An Instagram photo posted Sunday from the organization's official account depicts the iconic urn of wrestling veteran The Undertaker above the caption "Are. You. Ready? #WWECrownJewel."

Wrestlingnews.co reported that the original caption, before being changed, read: "Respect is out the window at #WWECrownJewel."