Several CS:GO talent have announced they will cease working with BLAST after the tournament organizer announced a new partnership with the Saudi Arabian development NEOM.
Vince Hill, Frankie Ward, Harry Russell, and Hugo Byron are all on the list of CS:GO talent who have pulled out of BLAST events over the partnership. The commentators cited the Saudi government’s poor human rights record, abuse of indigenous communities around NEOM, and inhumane treatment of LGBTQ+ folks as the reason for the decision.
Russell explained in a tweet, “Blast x NEOM is a disgrace to the BLAST brand, an organization I know is filled with wonderful, talented and loving individuals. The idea that this could be ‘silenced’ through ignoring it is not a standard of precedent that should be set.”
Byron replied to Russel’s tweet, saying that BLAST’s partnership with NEOM makes them hypocritical of their claimed stances.
“I stand by Harry, my colleagues and every person who has been persecuted by archaic Governments for being themselves. I urge everyone to educate themselves on the human rights violations being committed by NEOM and its owners.”
The backlash from BLAST’s decision follows similar backlash to the LEC’s announcement last week that it too had entered into a deal with the Saudi -sponsored NEOM project. Several LEC commentators announced their frustrations with that decision last week and said they would not work as long as the partnership lasted. The league quickly reversed course, however, and announced it had ended the deal less than 15 hours after its announcement.
NEOM is a planned cross-border city development located in Saudi Arabia. The city is being developed directly by the Saudi family’s own Public Investment Fund, an investment fund controlled by the government and royal family. Although the city is being pitched as the city of the future, the government has been accused of committing numerous human rights violations in the development of the area.
According to the Guardian, the Saudi government is facing allegations from the UN and others that it violated the human rights of the communities surrounding the NEOM site by destroying their cities and evicting them from their ancestral homelands. It is also being accused of violently suppressing protests and even murdering protest leaders while clearing NEOM for development.
In addition to the government’s direct abuses of indigenous communities, the Saudi government has also faced backlash in recent years due to its sexist and anti-LGBT institutions and laws. Additionally, the Saudi government has also been engaged in a violent war in Yemen which has been condemned by activists as a human rights tragedy. As of 2019, the death toll from the Yemen war was over 100,000 people and included at least 12,000 civilians.
In 2019, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud stirred further international outcry after agents of his government murdered Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist and outspoken critic of the crown, in the Saudi consulate of Istanbul.
Although it is clear Saudi Arabia is interested in being involved in esports, and technology more broadly, its human rights record will likely be an obstacle to work with the most reputable esports organizations.