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‘Money talks’: Anthony Joshua slammed for decision to fight in Saudi Arabia

Boxing star Anthony Joshua has been criticized by Amnesty International [Getty]

Date of publication: 30 November, 2019

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British boxing champion Anthony Joshua has been under growing criticism for his decision to fight in Saudi Arabia, with Amnesty saying he could have instead raised awareness of human rights.
British heavyweight boxing champion Anthony Joshua and his promoter Eddie Hearn have been under growing criticism for their decision to hold a rematch between AJ and Andy Riuz in Saudi Arabia.

In an article which concluded with the words “In the world of boxing, money talks”, UK newspaper The Daily Mail reported that Saudi Arabia offered a bid of approximately $100 miliion for the match to be held on its territory.

However, the Middle Eastern kingdom, has been castigated by human rights groups for its record of imprisoning, torturing, and killing political dissidents.

Critics have accused Joshua and Hearn of “cashing out”. The Saudi offer is reportedly far more than anything offered by more traditional boxing venues like Madison Square Garden in New York and the Millennium Stadium in the Welsh capital Cardiff. The latter was the most likely venue for the rematch before the last minute Saudi bid.

Comment: Brutal complicity - Why Joshua-Ruiz rematch must not be held in Saudi Arabia

The fight between AJ and Ruiz will now to take place in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia at a stadium built at breakneck speed specifically for the heavyweight match. It is being billed as the “Clash on the Dunes”

Hearn justified the decision by praising Saudi Arabia’s  alleged “vision”.

“We had approaches from Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Qatar,” The Daily Mail quoted him as saying. “We wanted to go somewhere that had a vision for the sport of boxing. We already knew Saudi Arabia was for real and investing in the sport. We have to realise that there is another world out there outside of Cardiff and Madison Square Garden.”

However Amnesty International has released an angry statement saying that the boxing match would give “yet another opportunity for the Saudi authorities to try to 'sportswash' their severely tarnished image.”

“Civil society has been silenced in Saudi Arabia. Anyone critical of the regime has been exiled, arrested, or threatened. There isn't any semblance of free speech or the right to protest,” Felix Jakens, Amnesty’s Head of Campaigns, said.

In response, Joshua said that it was better to engage with Saudi Arabia, instead of “pointing fingers and shouting from Great Britain”. He added that it was “impossible for him to put on a cape and save the world”.

However, Jakens said that the world-famous boxing champion had missed an opportunity to use his profile to raise awareness of the serious issues in Saudi Arabia.

“This was never about asking Anthony Joshua to be some kind of human rights superhero. It's simply a request that he use his incredibly high profile to speak out about human rights in Saudi Arabia. People do listen to him.

"If, for example, Joshua were to say something about the outrageous jailing of the Saudi women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul, this could provide an important reminder to the authorities that her plight is not going to be overlooked around the world,” Jakens added.

During a previous promotional trip by Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz to Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman used a news conference by the two boxers to plug an ambitious economic vision. No mention was made of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.

Women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul was detained in May 2018 amid a crackdown on dissent. She had been a longtime campaigner for women’s rights to drive. While Saudi Arabia now permits women to drive, she and other campaigners are still in jail and have been subjected to torture and abuse.

This week Saudi Arabia launched a new crackdown on suspected dissidents, arresting 12 people including “academics, Twitter activists, and women” according to the Prisoners of Conscience campaign group.

Amnesty International has called on leaders of the G20 economic forum to put pressure on Saudi Arabia for its “horrendous human rights record”, citing the “horrifying killing of Jamal Khashoggi”, the Saudi journalist who was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year.

Discussing the decision to stage the heavyweight rematch in Saudi Arabia, Sky Sports broadcaster Adam Smith was quoted by The Daily Mail as saying, “Obviously there's a lot of money on the table. [Anthony Joshua] was offered a huge amount to fight in America and Wales. It's a business, it's up to him to get the best possible deal. But is it a cash grab? Ask him that.”

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