Journalist Robert Inlakesh says Saturday’s world heavyweight fight in Saudi Arabia is being used as a cover for Riyadh’s human rights abuses in Yemen and will go down as a dark day in boxing history.
On Saturday December 7 the unified world heavyweight boxing champion, Andy Ruiz Jr., will defend his title against former heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua in a highly anticipated rematch.
But this is no ordinary sporting event. The fight is being held in Saudi Arabia and it is unfortunately being used as a propaganda instrument by the Saudi government in order to whitewash its war crimes and human rights violations in Yemen.
The fight is set to take place in the 19,000 seat Diriyah Arena, specifically built near a UNESCO world heritage site, in order to facilitate the fight. The event will be aired through the DAZN app and on different pay-per view platforms all around the world, meaning that millions of people will see the bout. Something that the Saudi Royal family are hoping will attract tourism and help promote their Kingdom to the West.
Behind the organisation of this fight is the renowned British boxing promoter, Eddie Hearn, who has managed to bag his fighter, Anthony Joshua, a fight purse of £50 million. Hearn was, according to his own words, contacted by Prince Khalid Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud with the proposal to hold the fight in Saudi Arabia. Since then, Hearn has repeatedly praised the prince, Saudi Arabia, its lifestyle, hospitality and all those in the Royal family who made the fight possible.
Interestingly it was reportedly (according to a leaked CIA document) Prince Khalid who had advised murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi to go to Istanbul’s KSA embassy, where he was ruthlessly dismembered.
On top of this, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman has used the fight as a means of promoting his 2030 economic plans.
Human Rights organisations such as Amnesty International have now accused Eddie Hearn’s event of “sportswashing” Saudi human rights violations and urged him to cancel it.
When questioned on this, Hearn had the following to say: “Go into the Mall, Gucci, Chanel, Starbucks – major corporations willing to trade here but we can’t accept a deal to have a fight with another man in the most brutal sport because of someone’s opinion on sportswashing?”
Former Heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua, who was embarrassingly beaten earlier this year after suffering four knockdowns before the referee called the fight off, has so far remained silent on the issue of “sportswashing.” Instead, he has continually praised Saudi Arabia in the build-up to the sequel of the June 1st epic, in which Andy Ruiz Jr. made history by becoming the world’s first Mexican heavyweight champion.
Meanwhile, Hearn, after he had finished praising the Saudi Royal family for making the fight possible in the final pre-fight press conference, stopped journalists from asking questions after both fighters had spoken. Prohibiting journalists from asking questions is no new thing however in Saudi Arabia, with Saudi ranking 172 out of 180 in the World Press Freedom index.
On September 27 this year Saudi Arabia opened its doors to tourism, launching an e-visa scheme to 49 different countries. The scheme was launched as part of a plan to improve the image of the country and to generate revenue through tourism. Immediately after this tourism scheme was announced Saudi began attracting Western events to the country, including the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment).
So this boxing event is only one of several others which have been used by Saudi to cover up its crimes. But it hasn’t all gone smoothly. Former world boxing champion Prince Naseem Hamed spoke up for the people of Yemen at the first ever boxing event hosted in Saudi Arabia in September 2018. Hamed asked the people of Saudi Arabia to make dua for their oppressed brothers and sisters in Yemen and went on to sing a nationalist song in the honour of his homeland.
The Saudi war on Yemen is considered by the United Nations to have caused the worst humanitarian disaster on the planet currently. With hundreds of thousands having died as a result of the Saudi-enforced blockade or killed directly by fighting, Saudi Arabia has been accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Their actions in Yemen, along with human rights abuses, targeting of minorities and unjust executions inside of Saudi Arabia itself, are ample reasons for a worldwide boycott of the Saudi regime.
Eddie Hearn, however, doesn’t seem to care about the ongoing atrocities and unfortunately for the sport of boxing neither do the athletes competing in the event. Instead it seems that it’s money that fuels sport, rather than heart and determination, which are often promoted as the positive traits displayed in boxing.
For all of the reasons above this Saturday will mark a dark day in the history of boxing.