Dan Le Batard Saudi Arabia Screen grab: The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz

For the better part of the past five years, Saudi Arabia has used its money and influence to make itself a staple of the sports world in an apparent attempt to improve its reputation and mitigate its human rights record.

But while there are many criticisms of the strategy that has come to be known as sportswashing, according to Dan Le Batard, what isn’t up for debate is its effectiveness.

“I think it’s still fairly shocking even though I think that we’re being pelted with such crazy news every day from every angle of the universe that maybe normalized relations with Saudi Arabia in sports is something that we’re going to just shrug now about,” Le Batard said during Thursday’s episode of The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz. “The Saudi Arabia thing is working. Like what Saudi Arabia was trying to do with its money, it is successfully doing.”

It would be tough to dispute Le Batard’s point — just look at the last week alone.

Last Saturday, Riyadh hosted the crossover boxing mega fight between WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury and former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou. Days later, it was announced that Saudi Arabia has been named the host of the 2034 World Cup — winning the rare unopposed bid for the event — while WWE is set to host its annual Crown Jewel premium live event in Riyadh on Saturday.

Through it all, there has been relatively little mention of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, at least not compared to what the coverage likely would have been even a year ago. Rather, the country, which is ruled by an absolute monarchy, is now often portrayed as merely the backdrop to these big events, no different from Las Vegas or London.

In that regard, even the socially conscious Le Batard admitted guilt.

“I talked about Ngannou and Fury and a really seismic boxing, mixed martial arts, business, sports story without ever mentioning, ‘Hey, Saudi Arabia can purchase these things very easily now, their money has been totally normalized,'” Le Batard said. “And we just sort of throw our ethics aside on, ‘Yeah, the bone-sawing of a journalist. We understand it’s kind of blood money but sports likes its money and if it’s got blood on it, everyone’s in complicated business relationships.'”

“It’s a big fat mission accomplished for the sportswashing,” added producer Mike Ryan Ruiz, who noted that WWE began running shows in Saudi Arabia in 2018 as a part of a highly lucrative business arrangement with the country. “Honestly, it retrospect, Vince McMahon was ahead of the curve. And credit to him. He caught a lot for it and now no one really cares to think about it much more and everyone’s getting in bed with Saudi Arabia.”

While Saudi Arabia’s sportswashing strategy began with its WWE shows five years ago, it has since evolved into the formation of LIV Golf, the purchasing of some of soccer’s biggest stars and the regular hosting of other high profile combat sports events. What’s next? In addition to hosting the World Cup in 11 years, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Saudi Arabia become involved in the ownership of United States-based professional teams, something that NBA commissioner Adam Silver has already said his league is open to.

At this point, to boycott everything in sports with a link to Saudi Arabia would be to boycott some of sports’ biggest stories and stars. And while there are many complicated factors when it comes to the United States’ relationship with Saudi Arabia that go above sports, that doesn’t appear to be something that will be slowing down any time soon.

“It’s almost like unbridled capitalism was a bad idea,” joked co-host Amin Elhassan.

[The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz]

About Ben Axelrod

Ben Axelrod is a veteran of the sports media landscape, having most recently worked for NBC's Cleveland affiliate, WKYC. Prior to his time in Cleveland, he covered Ohio State football and the Big Ten for outlets including Cox Media Group, Bleacher Report, Scout and Rivals.