Mohammed bin Salman, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, has said that the nation will continue to engage in sportswashing as long as it makes them money. “If sportswashing [is] going to increase my GDP by way of 1%, then I will continue doing sportwashing. I don’t care,” bin Salman told Fox News. “One percent growth of GDP from sport and I’m aiming for another one-and-a-half percent — call it whatever you want, we’re going to get that one-and-a-half percent,” he continued.
Sportswashing is the term used to describe the use of sport to improve a country’s image. Infamous for its human rights violations and oppression of women and the LGBT community, Saudi Arabia’s attempts to use sports to improve the nation’s image have become more and more aggressive in recent years. Prime examples include the acquisition of professional golf’s PGA Tour, over $1 billion spent this summer to acquire world-renowned soccer stars, and major investments to acquire major esports companies.
Jess Bolden Defends Saudi U-Turn
A great example of Saudi sportswashing occurred earlier this year with a prominent esports figure. Bolden, a caster, analyst, and former coach in Rainbow Six Siege, is openly a member of the LGBTQ+ community and lives with her partner in Italy. On a stream in 2022, the Australian made her view on Gamers8 very clear. “Out of all of the places in your entire region that you probably shouldn’t hold something, Saudi Arabia is absolutely one of them. It’s so funny to me because people are going to find excuses for it. Like every fucking excuse under the sun they can find and then the people that worked it are going to be like, ‘I needed the opportunity.’ Shut the fuck up.” However, Bolden received fierce backlash after announcing that she would be attending Gamers8 2023.
In her statement on the issue, Bolden claims that she withdrew from Gamers8 2022 out of fear after receiving “serious messages.” These messages came after announcing her intention to attend. She had initially intended to attend in order to “represent women and the LGBT community.” She goes on to say that she “used this fear to make statements about others attending that were completely unfair and not opinions I hold anymore.” Bolden goes on to explain that after speaking with ESL FACEIT Group, she agreed to attend the 2023 event. Furthermore, Bolden lauds the “immense amount of respect and professionalism” afforded to her at the event. Additionally, the reception she received has “quelled” her pre-existing fears. Finally, Bolden expressed “deep shame” for her 2022 comments and said she hopes to continue growing.