Sports officials in Saudi Arabia apologized over the weekend after “indecent” images of women wrestlers were shown on a big screen during a WWE event held in the kingdom.
Television viewers said the broadcast of WWE’s “Greatest Royal Rumble” was cut off for a few moments Friday as the promotional images played. The Wall Street Journal reported that the images drew “hoots and cheers from the mostly male audience” at the event in the city of Jeddah.
The Saudi General Sports Authority apologized in an online statement Saturday and added it would not show matches involving female wrestlers.
Despite those prohibitions, Friday’s show was notable for allowing women and children as spectators. A previous WWE event held in the ultraconservative kingdom in 2014 was for men only.
One female fan, 27-year-old May Omar, wore an XXL T-shirt featuring the wrestler Triple H in place of her traditional abaya, a cloak-like garmend.
“It’s flowy and black, so really, what’s the difference?” Omar told the Journal, adding that she was a longtime fan of the sport even though her teachers frowned upon it.
“[They] considered it indecent and inappropriate to look at male wrestlers,” Omar said.
WWE is wildly popular across the Middle East. The organization has an Arabic website and has held events in other Gulf Arab nations. The Journal reported that eight WWE events had previously been held in Saudi Arabia, but none had been televised and only male fans were allowed.
Friday night’s event — which featured WWE stars John Cena, Shinsuke Nakamura, The Undertaker and others — is part of a series of social changes pushed by the kingdom’s assertive 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Those including allowing women to drive and join the military, as well as the lifting of a 35-year ban on movie theaters.