National esports body British Esports Federation (British Esports) has released a statement following a wave of criticism of its partnership with the Saudi Esports Federation.
British Esports addressed concerns and reiterated its commitment to its core values, however the body has not cancelled the partnership.
British Esports announced its partnership with the Saudi Esports Federation on October 9th. The deal, which the body described as ‘historic’, involved a range of joint projects with the Saudi Esports Federation. These were said to include cultural exchange programmes, internships, training and educational initiatives.
However, the announcement was instantly met with widespread backlash by the community on social media. Prominent UK community stakeholders spoke out publicly against the partnership, with many arguing it betrayed values publicly championed by British Esports such as on women’s and LGBTQ+ rights.
The Saudi Esports Federation is run by the Saudi Arabian government, and is chaired by Saudi royal family member HRH Prince Faisal Bin Bandar bin Sultan. Homosexuality is illegal in Saudi Arabia and the country has been criticised for its human rights record regarding LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, and crackdowns on dissent.
In a statement released on October 10th, British Esports claimed it did not receive any monetary compensation from the Saudi Esports Federation for the partnership, which it characterised as a non-commercial agreement.
It also reiterated its commitment to inclusivity regardless of gender, race, religion or sexual orientation, a stance it said will not change and is fundamental to esports’ growth.
“We recognise that truly embracing diversity and inclusivity means being ready to tackle challenges head-on and part of that commitment is a willingness to engage in dialogue that positively shapes and influences change,” the statement reads. “We want to represent all identities and backgrounds and we can’t do this alone. British Esports being part of the discussion enables a line of communication for all parties to share their values, learn and develop together.”
British Esports received particular criticism for allegedly undermining the work of its Women in Esports initiative, which promotes gender and other inclusivity in the esports industry. “I’m angry and incensed that the genuine good work of the Women in Esports initiative has been affected by this partnership. I support my LGBTQ+ friends and peers within Women in Esports who are having to deal with the fallout,” Kylie Kendrick, a Community Mod for Women in Esports, said on X.
British Esports is affiliated with international esports body the Global Esports Federation. Saudi Esports Federation Chairman HRH Prince Faisal Bin Bandar bin Sultan is Vice President of the Global Esports Federation, as well as Acting President of rival international esports body the International Esports Federation.
Saudi Arabia has invested heavily in esports in recent years including buying major esports industry stakeholders such as ESL, FACEIT and Vindex, buying large stakes in gaming companies, and holding a $45m esports festival.
Saudi Arabia says its investments in esports are an attempt to diversify its economy away from petrochemicals, including as part of its Vision 2030 programme. However, some industry commentators have described the country’s government-led endeavours as an attempt at ‘esportswashing’.