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175 WWE staff stranded in Saudi Arabia and to miss SmackDown

Richie McCormack
Richie McCormack

04:59 1 Nov 2019


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WWE have confirmed that 175 people associated with the company have been left stranded in Saudi Arabia following their Crown Jewel event. 

In a rare case of openly admitting an issue, the company owned by Vince McMahon says "aircraft problems" have left them working with a skeleton crew for Friday night's episode of SmackDown on the Fox network.

A statement says that "More than 175 Superstars, production crew and employees boarded a 747 charter flight back to the United States on Thursday.

"After the door closed, due to several aircraft problems including mechanical issues, all passengers sat on the tarmac for more than six hours.

"With SmackDown set to emanate live from Buffalo, N.Y., several Superstars felt so strongly that they arranged for their own separate charter in order to make it back to the U.S. for the show.

"Due to unforeseen issues, that charter will not land until after the live broadcast on FOX.

"The remainder of WWE’s Superstars, staff and crew will depart on a charter set to depart Saudi Arabia later tonight."

Reports claim that McMahon along with Hulk Hogan and Brock Lesnar were among 20 individuals affiliated with WWE that were allowed to leave Saudi Arabia on their own private aircraft.

The WWE statement has promoted "Daniel Bryan, The Miz, Carmella, Nikki Cross, Dana Brooke — plus, additional surprises" for Friday's SmackDown which returns to Fox after a week on FS1.

Bryan (Bryan Danielson) has refused to partake in the last two Crown Jewel events, having previously wrestled in April 2018's Greatest Royal Rumble. It's believed Bryan was aggrieved with fellow superstar Sami Zayn's inability to wrestle in Saudi Arabia due to his Syrian background. Saudi Arabia severed ties with Syria in 2012.

The female contingent named in the WWE statement would not have been involved in Crown Jewel, with the state only allowing a first-ever women's match on Thursday night when Lacey Evans faced Natalya Neidhart.

Both Evans and Neidhart had to wear full-body covering for their contest, while Neidhart had a bottle thrown at her during her entrance.

Despite the perception that wrestling fans are somehow "uneducated", the reaction to WWE's involvement with Saudi Arabia has drawn widespread criticism from fans and journalists alike.

The gulf state and the biggest wrestling company in the world entered an exclusive 10-year agreement in 2018 to hold wrestling events in Saudi Arabia. That deal is said to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars to WWE, hence their ability to give big paydays to Tyson Fury and Cain Velasquez.

The morality of that deal was brought into sharp focus following the grisly death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul on October 2 2018. WWE held its first Crown Jewel event in the kingdom exactly one month later.

Saudi Arabia's dreadful human rights record, its jailing of activists, the illegality of homosexuality and record of mass executions make the WWE deal all the more grubby.

Some WWE superstars are clearly aware of this, with the likes of Ali (Adeel Alam) donating his fee to charity.

Having to put on Friday's edition of SmackDown with such a limited pool of talent will be a further blow to WWE following their high-profile deal with Fox.

The debut edition of the show drew 3.8million viewers, however last week's move to FS1 due to the World Series saw SmackDown attract a pitiful audience of 888,000.

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Ali BROCK LESNAR Cain Velasquez Crown Jewel Daniel Bryan Hulk Hogan Lacey Evans Natalya Neidhart Saudi Arabia Tyson Fury Vince McMahon WWE Wrestling

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