Saudi Arabia threw itself into hosting international sporting events in 2018 as sports tourism became a central tenet of the country’s Vision 2030. Having seen Gulf neighbours Qatar, Barhain and UAE enjoy notable success from welcoming sports fans, The Kingdom opened up its doors to international visitors.
The killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi on October 2 2018, however, prompted calls for a sporting boycott. With many events already slated, a number of teams, athletes and organisations came under fire for competing in Saudi Arabia.
However, calls for a boycott appear to have been unheeded thus far and here, Sport Industry Insider takes a look at the sporting events that have taken place in The Kingdom since Khashoggi’s killing.
Superclasico de las Americas (October 11-16:)
As details about Khashoggi’s murder were still emerging, Saudi Arabia hosted a four-team friendly tournament in October where the country’s football team played against Iraq, Argentina and Brazil.
Brazil beat Argentina and Saudi Arabia to win the mini-tournament, which largely escaped the controversy that surrounded later sporting events in the country.
WWE Crown Jewel (November 2)
The second WWE event to be held in Saudi Arabia as part of a 10-year deal, the ‘Crown Jewel’ in November saw several leading fighters battle it out for the WWE World Cup.
Despite fans calling for the show to be scrapped, WWE pushed ahead but removed direct references to the event’s location from its website and media coverage. John Cena, Daniel Bryan and several other major WWE stars decided not to attend.
Ad Diriyah E-Prix (December 13-15)
The fifth season of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship opened with a new race in Ad Diriyah, despite pressure from fans to avoid Saudi Arabia.
Formula E organisers were determined to keep the event as planned but admitted that they were “monitoring the situation”.
In the end the all-electric race went ahead as planned and the only disruption was by heavy rain, with Antonio Felix da Costa crowned the winner.
The Ad Diriyah race also marked the start of a new-look Formula E, with interactive elements introduced like the ‘fanboost’, where fans could vote for their favourite driver to receive a burst of extra power.
Nadal v Djokovic (December 22)
A one-off exhibition match between two of the world’s best tennis players, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, the King Salman Tennis Championship was announced after Khashoggi’s murder, although apparently agreed months earlier.
Roger Federer revealed that he had turned down an invitation to play, while Nadal and Djokovic tried to play down the political issues as fans took to Twitter to call on them not to take part.
Rafa Nadal looks excited for his first trip to Saudi Arabia, but has he forgotten what they recently did to Jamal Khashoggi and even their activists for voicing opinions, and merely demanding what’s right. #SaudiKillsJamalKhashoggi #RafaBoycottSaudi
— Adrian Ismail (@_adrianismail) October 8, 2018
In the end the match was called off in early November because of Nadal’s ankle surgery, although he was announced in the lineup for the Mubadala World Tennis Championship less than a week later.
That championship was held 27-29 December in Abu Dhabi, where Nadal was knocked out in the semi-final and Djokovic was crowned the winner.
Italian Super Cup (January 16)
An existing agreement to host three of the next five Supercoppa Italiana matches in Saudi Arabia has caused a headache for Serie A, with many fans, journalists and politicians calling for the match on January 16 to be moved.
The game between league champions Juventus and Coppa Italia runners-up Milan is still set to go ahead, although further outrage was caused by the revelation that parts of the stadium would be men-only.
The Super Cup forms a major part of Italy’s football season and has increasingly been played outside of Italy in recent years.
Saudi International golf (January 31 – February 3)
Saudi Arabia’s first international golf tournament forms part of the European Tour and many of the world’s best golfers are expected to take part, including Brooks Koepka and Justin Rose.
The new tournament was first announced in March 2018 as part of a three-year deal, but after Khashoggi’s killing the event has crept up under the radar.
The European Tour team has insisted it will go ahead as planned, though many players taking part have actively tried to distance themselves from the politics and focus purely on the golf.
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