Sporting bodies have often formed dubious associations, all in search of financial backing or rewards. The news that Saudi Arabia has been awarded the 2034 FIFA World Cup hasn’t exactly been celebrated universally. Human Rights groups have immediately pointed to the appalling number of executions in the middle eastern kingdom, most by beheading, taking place in a country with no criminal code and a strict adherence to Sharia law. 

In 2022 Amnesty International confirmed that 196 executions had been carried out during  that year and the LGBTQ community have constantly criticised the persecution of homosexuals there. Gay men supposedly violating Sharia law have been subjected to severe lashings (up to 500 at a time), long prison sentences and in some cases the death penalty.

Saudi Arabia is bidding for FIFA World Cup 2034 – Photo: Getty

You can bet that the Saudis will suspend executions during the World Cup, ignore any gay oriented indiscretions, and maybe, for a bit of cultural flavour, even stage a mock decapitation in the traditional public arena known as “Chop Chop Square”. Meanwhile, our own National Rugby League is hosting a massive promotional circus in another dubious location in an attempt to flog our ‘national’ game’ to the Yanks, in particular their millions of cashed up sports punters.

What do you do when you are the National Ruby League and the game is really only popular in two states, NSW and Queensland?  (Admittedly there’s a team in the ACT and a token presence in Victoria where AFL reigns supreme, but attempts to expand the game to South Australia and Western Australia have been costly flops.) You package it up and take the opening games of the 2024 season to Las Vegas, a city guaranteed to capture the attention of the Australian media and the public at large.


One of the constant selling points to the American public has been the “we don’t wear helmets” line, emphasising the supposed brutality of our game. We bang our heads together and drive them into the ground leaving many of the retired players with permanent brain damage and early onset dementia. Take that you helmet wearing NFL sissies!

Even if our players carried guns, all wore MAGA caps and ate an entire turkey for thanksgiving, it’s highly unlikely America will ever embrace rugby league, given their deep rooted allegiance to baseball and gridiron, both totally engrained in the American psyche. There’s enough brutality in their everyday life without them lauding it on the footy field.

The reverence and drooling accolades generated by the Australia media for “Sin City USA” as regards the NRL promotion has been positively sickening – “Oh wow, they are going to Vegas!”. It’s as if  the NRL is ascending to the ultimate pinnacle of hedonistic pleasure and global showbiz validation, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Celine Dion, Wayne Newton and Siegfried & Roy (not to forget our own Kyle Minogue). 

The Stip, Las Vegas. Image: commons

There is of course another side to Vegas which none of the media outlets choose to mention, like the multitude of homeless people living in the storm tunnels beneath the city. Whilst it’s reportedly been on a decline in recent years, in 2021 it’s estimated there were around 2000 people living in these tunnels. There might possibly be homeless people living directly under Allegiant Stadium where the NRL games are being played. Vegas was also the scene of America’s worst mass shooting when in 2017 a lone gunman opened fire on concert goers at the Harvest 91 Festival, killing 60 people and wounding 413. It’s a fun place!

Homeless people living in underground tunnels, Las Vegas.

Here’s what one American posted on line some years ago and more recent comments suggest that nothing has really changed:

“Las Vegas is a shithole of the city that is only fun if you’re drunk and stupid. And getting drunk there costs a fortune. Also all the illegal and semi-legal activities are just as corporate and bullshit as the legal ones. The alcohol is expensive, the food is expensive, the hotels are expensive, the drugs are expensive, it’s full of conmen and scammers and homeless beggars. The casinos are like giant soul-sucking money vacuums full of old people gambling away their social security checks. There are a bunch of mediocre clubs masquerading as high-end clubs, and shitty comics masquerading as good comics, with tickets that cost twice as much as they do in any other city.”

Homeless people on the streets of Las Vegas.

With thousands of Australian tourists apparently making the trip for the opening games, a strong media contingent and a heap of players and officials, I’m surprised our own NRL did not issue a souvenir showbag for the occasion. If I was flogging one it would certainly contain a copy of Hunter Thompsons’s Fear And Loathing in Las Vegas, a bullet proof vest for any open air concerts, an Eiffel Tower bottle opener, a complete set of essential prophylactics and a discount voucher for The Chicken Ranch (sorry poultry lovers, it’s a well known brothel).

For a somewhat different view of Vegas, the type you won’t see in the travel promos or on Channel Nine’s ‘Getaway”, check out – Dregs of the City: Las Vegas

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