World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) is facing scrutiny from LGBT+ fans for hosting its big Greatest Royal Rumble event on Friday in Saudi Arabia.
The Middle Eastern country prohibits homosexuality and gay people could be punished by death. Saudi Arabia also has restrictive laws when it comes to women.
Local laws prohibit women from participating in sport, which means WWE’s female wrestlers such as Sonya Deville, who is openly lesbian, will not be allowed to compete at the event.
It was only in January that Saudi Arabia relaxed some of its laws to allow women to attend sporting events unchaperoned.
Fans have expressed their disappointment over the lack of women wrestlers and the significance of the location for LGBT+ fans alike, with one fan saying they are “torn” over watching the landmark event.
Twitter account WWE LGBT asked its queer fans what they thought about the tournament’s controversial location, with 64 percent stating that they disagreed with it taking place in Saudi Arabia.
“I don’t wish to be overly critical with regards to the WWE choosing to host the Greatest Royal Rumble in Saudi Arabia, but neither can I say I’m thrilled about the location of Friday’s event,” Sam Wiley, founder of the @WWELGBT Twitter told PinkNews.
“There’s no doubt the Saudi regime has committed horrendous human rights atrocities and their treatment of women and the LGBT+ community is an absolute disgrace.”
However, Wiley concedes that WWE has been more inclusive of women than ever before through what it is being dubbed the “women’s evolution.” Female stars such as Charlotte Flair and Sasha Banks have participated in hard-hitting matches, like the Hell in a Cell match, that were previously only competed in by men.
“I think through things like the women’s evolution and more LGBT+ visibility the WWE is heading in the right direction when it comes to equality, and it’s clear they do not hold the same views when it comes to human rights,” said Wiley.
These things take time and patience is the key, as we know when we consider the wider women’s rights and LGBT+ rights movement,” he added.
Prominent LGBT+ activist Peter Tatchell said that that the tournament’s location in “the bastion of illiberalism” makes WWE less accessible for LGBT+ fans.
“The heads of wrestling need to ensure that everyone is able to participate and spectate. Sport should be accessible, fun and never involve exclusion or discrimination. Saudi Arabia is a bastion of illiberalism for LGBT+ people and women,” Tatchell told PinkNews.
“The bosses of WWE are colluding with an anti-human rights regime. Saudi Arabia should be boycotted until it ends discrimination against women and until it guarantees a welcome to LGBT athletes and fans.”
“WWE is committed to embracing individuals from all backgrounds while respecting local customs at our events around the world,” a WWE spokesperson told PinkNews.
“Our partnership with the General Sports Authority enables us to be at the forefront of the changes that are taking place and those to come.”
More from PinkNews
In Saudi Arabia, homosexuality is punishable by the death penalty.
This barbaric penalty is only law in six other countries across the world: Iran, Yemen, Sudan, Nigeria, Mauritania and Somalia.
WWE has made big strides in LGBT+ inclusion in the last several weeks.
The company’s WrestleMania event on April 8 saw lesbian wrestler Sonia DeVille compete on the biggest show in WWE for the first time.
Irish wrestler Finn Balor has also been fighting to spread a message of LGBT inclusion by sporting a rainbow-coloured ‘For everyone’ T-shirt.